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

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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.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Report on Racism and Slavery is Well-Done and It is a Big Step in the Right Direction

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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.

For example, I think Rod Dreher, bombast aside, is generally correct in his criticism of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s piece in the Washington Post.  Here is a taste of Dreher:

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.

Bad Timing

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

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

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

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

Give Now 

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

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

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

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

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

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Read it here.

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

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

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

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

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

Paige Patterson and Richard Land Will Co-Teach an Ethics Course

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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.

Churches and the Legacy of Racism: A Tale of Two Congregations

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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

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:

  1.  The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen:  George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
  2. It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
  3. It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
  4. 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.

Evangelical Fear in Alabama

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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.

 

Al Mohler Pontificates on the Origins of the Culture War

KavanaughWho “started” the culture wars?

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

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

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

Here is more:

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

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

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

A few thoughts:

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

Male Authoritarianism and the Southern Baptists

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R. Marie Griffith directs the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  Some of you may remember our interview with her in Episode 32 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. During that interview we talked with Griffith about her recent book Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

Over at Religion & Politics, Griffith makes some important links between Southern Baptists, religious authoritarianism, and evangelical support for Donald Trump.  She draws upon her own Southern Baptist upbringing in Chattanooga.

Here is a taste:

Ironically or fittingly enough, Pressler and Patterson, the takeover titans, were themselves taken down by sex scandals of various types. Earlier this year, Pressler’s name hit the national news for disturbing accusations of same-sex sexual misconduct and assault leveled against him; shortly thereafter, Patterson was ousted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over substantiated charges of damaging sexist behavior against women (from counseling an abused woman to stay with her husband and commenting on the body parts of young women to mishandling rape reports). That the architects of the “wives submit graciously” addition to the edifice of Baptist theology turned out to be men tainted by sexual misbehavior and chauvinism shocked many but could hardly surprise. As more sexual abuse scandals come to light, we’re getting a sad lesson in the ways that some respected leaders have ignored, neglected, and covered up injurious and even criminal behavior against vulnerable church members.

If that sounds like a plot from a movie, this is unfortunately not fiction, and the calculated strategy for retaining power regardless of fairness or due process has persisted in the denomination to this day. That the leaders of a tradition long known for touting its tolerance of independent thought within the wide bounds of the Bible became so thoroughly intolerant, not only of difference of opinion but of mere questioning and debate, has been a painful pill for many cradle Baptists to swallow. Untold numbers of people in the pews who have been perturbed by the machinations of denominational leaders and dismayed by the church’s patriarchal entrenchment have left the church for more democratic, egalitarian climes, even as many of those remaining have apparently grown comfortable with its top-down dogmatism. As one Baptist, removed as a trustee from the International Mission Board in 2006 for trying to prevent other trustees from removing some women from leadership there, put it recently: “Southern Baptist pastors are infatuated with and captivated by authoritarianism.”

No wonder so many white evangelicals are infatuated with and captivated by the authoritarian occupying the White House. It’s been a long time coming.

Read the entire piece here.

The Southern Baptist Story That Will Not Go Away

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Paige Patterson loyalists are looking for payback.  Some big donors to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are threatening to withhold their donations unless the Patterson case is reopened.  Not familiar with the Patterson case?  Get up to speed with these posts.

Julie Zauzmer has the story at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Thousands of Southern Baptist women decried the way Paige Patterson, for decades a revered leader in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, talked about women from the pulpit. Then two allegations came to light that Patterson had not gone to police when a rape was reported to him, and the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary fired him from his post as president of the seminary.

But Patterson’s defenders are still numerous in this conservative evangelical denomination. At the denomination’s annual meeting last month, they made a resolution — which was soundly defeated — to fire all the trustees who had fired Patterson.

Now, they have fired their latest salvo: a letter from more than two dozen major donors, claiming the trustees acted improperly in ousting Patterson and vowing to withhold their donations from the seminary unless the decision to fire Patterson is reopened.

Read the entire piece here.

Karen Swallow Prior is quoted in the piece.  She is on the mark:

What we’re seeing is people who are committed to a person rather than to an institution or to the convention, putting their loyalty to a person ahead of their adherence to the principles of the institution,” said Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University.

She said she wasn’t surprised to see the fight continuing but that the defeated resolution at the annual meeting should have put an end to it.

“It’s ironic, actually, that this letter, which is making complaints about alleged lack of due process, is also failing to follow due process within the Southern Baptist Convention. Due process in the Southern Baptist Convention looks like what happened at the annual meeting a few weeks ago, when a motion was brought before the convention to remove the executive committee for its decision about Paige Patterson, and that motion did not pass,” she said. “Since that was defeated, now we see something else enter into the picture, which is huge amounts of money. And there’s nothing Baptist or Christian about that.”

My Latest Piece at *Sojourners*: Pence’s Visit to the Southern Baptist Convention

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Here is a taste:

In the last several months, the #MeToo movement has found its way to one of the largest Protestant denominations in America — the Southern Baptist Convention. While this year’s annual meeting did address issues related to Paige Patterson, the former SBC Theological Seminary president, and how women are treated in the church, the SBC leadership also decided to welcome Mike Pence, who represents a presidential administration with a long track record of degrading women in public, to their meeting. 

In May, over 3000 SBC women sent an open letter to the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demanding the firing of Paige Patterson.

As one of the primary architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s, Patterson is a living legend in the SBC. But over the course of the last few months, the world that Paige Patterson created collapsed around him. 

Patterson’s indiscretions are now widely known. He made inappropriate comments about teenage girls, he told a female victim of sexual assault not to report the incident to the police, and in 2015, when a Southwestern student told Patterson that she had been raped, he said he would meet with the student alone, so he could “break her down.”

The Board of Trustees at Southwestern eventually removed Patterson from his post. He is now gone, but the problem of authoritarian and misogynistic Southern Baptist leaders remains. The Patterson case exposed the dark side of the SBC and its conservative resurgence, prompting one seminary president to declare that the “wrath of God” is now being poured out on the convention. 

Read the rest here.

Tony Perkins Praises Pence Speech at the Southern Baptist Convention and Confuses God and Country…Again

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We have already weighed-in on Wednesday’s Pence speech.

Here is court evangelical Tony Perkins on the speech:

As [Pence] touched on the country’s divided times, several in the room probably thought about the division right there in that room. Just yesterday, one SBC messenger made a motion to disinvite the vice president, insisting that, “By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members, suggesting that to be faithful to the gospel, we ought to align with a particular administration.”

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed, soundly defeating the ill-conceived resolution. But it is a clear indication that there are some within the church that are either too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced, or – as Jesus described in John 17 – being in the world but not of it. We can’t influence if we retreat. We don’t have to agree with everything this president has said or done, and we don’t, but it is foolish and even detrimental to persecuted believers around the world to fail to acknowledge that this administration is being used to set the table for the church to do its work unhindered. The vice president, Mike Pence, is an unabashed believer who’s championing their cause in the White House. Look at the doors this administration is opening for religious liberty and free speech. Now is not the time for shutting doors – now’s the time to rush through and seize this moment of opportunity.

Read the entire piece here.

Wow! There is a lot to unpack in Perkins’s post.

  1. Perkins criticizes pastor Garrett Kell’s resolution to replace Pence’s speech with a time of prayer.  But notice how he does it.  He blames Kell (“one SBC messenger”) for promoting disunity.  Actually, if you read Kell’s resolution, it was steeped in unity–not for the nation, but for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Perkins seems confused.  The SBC meeting in Dallas was not a political event or a God and country rally.  It was a religious event.  It seems to me that “unity” at a religious event should revolve around spiritual things, not politics or nationalism.
  2. Perkins suggests that anyone who opposed Pence’s speech is “too ill-informed or too focused on the headlines to understand the difference between influencing and being influenced.”  In other words, those who opposed Pence’s speech are not smart enough to realize that they are being played by the Left, the media, or (add your favorite bogeyman here).  But let’s remember that the Trump White House asked the SBC if Pence could come and speak.  Is it possible to view this as anything but an attempt to shore-up votes among the evangelical base?  Who got played here?
  3. Perkins has the audacity to quote John 17, a passage in which Jesus prays for unity in his church.  Again, he confuses Jesus’s prayer for unity among fellow Christians with national unity.  Jesus was not praying for national unity.  He was not praying for unity in the United States.
  4. Perkins’s piece would make a great primary source for students to read in an American religious history course.  It provides an amazing example of the way that the Christian Right conflates the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of America.  Politics don’t “set the table” for the church.  God sets the table.  Perkins sees everything in political terms.  He also talks about “seizing opportunities,” a clear reference to the 2018 election.

Mike Pence Delivers a Trump Stump Speech at the Southern Baptist Convention

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This, of course, is why Donald Trump picked him in the first place–to shore-up the evangelical base.

I think it is safe to say that the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, J.D. Greear, might agree with the title of this post:

I wonder if Greear will elaborate on this tweet at some point.

Here are some more tweets from the Pence speech:

Politicians at the Southern Baptist Convention

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Mike Pence is not the first politician to speak at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Historian Thomas Kidd offers some historical context in a piece at The Gospel Coalition.  Here is a taste:

It was not unheard of for politicians to address the SBC annual meeting. In 1967, U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, a liberal Republican and devout Conservative Baptist, addressed the annual meeting on the topic of poverty and the need for effective welfare policy.

The SBC made a significant turn in 1972 when it invited Nixon to address the annual meeting. With Graham’s assistance, Nixon had continued to cultivate support from the SBC, especially as Americans became disenchanted with the war in Vietnam. SBC officials extended a formal invitation to Nixon, who assured them that he would come if his schedule allowed. Some SBC leaders were outraged at the prospect of Nixon’s appearance, and Nixon thought better of it and decided to withdraw, citing scheduling problems. But a key precedent had been set: the SBC became a destination for major politicians in election years.

In 1976 Gerald Ford became the first sitting president to address the annual meeting. Jimmy Carter did likewise in 1978—in a sense, his was the most expected appearance since Carter was, at the time, still a Southern Baptist. But after his appearance, Democrats at the SBC annual meeting would become an endangered species.

Read the entire piece here.

Virginia Southern Baptist Pastor: Replace Pence Speech With a Time of Prayer

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Pastor Kell in action

Here is Pastor Garrett Kell of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia:

I want to be clear, this has nothing to do with Mr. Pence personally.  From my understanding he is a born-again Christian man and attends one of the churches in our convention.  I think we should pray for him in his all-important service of our country.

But as a pastor that strives to grow in unity, gospel faithfulness, and mission efforts in our local churches, I have three brief concerns regarding this decision and the way it effects our churches.

The first is the unity of our church.  For many years we have been talking about loving and listening to our minority brothers and sisters.  This invitation [to Pence] does nothing to suggest that we actually listening.  Not only are many of us in this room hurt and bothered by this invitation, but also many of our minority brothers and sisters will especially be hurt by this invitation and I fear it will communicate to many of them that our political associations are more important than our associations with them.

Secondly, in regards to the clarity of the Gospel.  What binds this Convention together is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because of that, this Convention ought to be marked by the things we share in common, not things that faithful Christians can disagree with.  By associating publicly with any administration, we send a mixed message to our members suggesting that to be faithful to the Gospel we ought to align with a political administration.  We must do all that we can to preserve the purity of the Gospel, and this invitation [to Mike Pence] works against it.  I even had a perspective member this week ask me if they needed to vote Republican in order to join our church….

Thirdly, and finally, the safety of our overseas workers.  Whether rightly or wrongly, this current administration provokes strong reactions and in some cases great hostility in many regions of the world.  I’m not here to debate those policies at all. But publicly aligning our workers with this or any administration puts our workers in unnecessary risk because of the decisions of an administration.  What is said in Washington echoes around the world and having Mr. Pence come [to the SBC meeting] further hinders our work I think.

In conclusion, I would like us to consider Romans 14:19: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”  Which is the reason I would like us to reconsider this invitation because brothers and sisters right now there is a world filled with people who are going to hell and what we need to be about is the Gospel, and anything that can distort that I think is a step backward and not a step forward.  Thank you.

At this point, Grant Ethridge, the “chairman of the committee on order of business,” took the microphone.  Here is what he said:

Thank you Mr. President.  First of all dear brother I want you to know I love and respect you.  I hear what you are saying in your concern.  And I am personally very sensitive to the issue that you have raised.

I pastor in a city that is 53% African American.  Praise God–to his Glory–our church has moved from being an all-white, Republican church to a church that is multi-generational, multi-ethnic, and multi-site.  So again, I hear your concerns and I am very sensitive to it.

I want the messengers to hear the heart of our committee.  Our program recognizes and honors local, state, and national leaders.  Let me be clear: the Southern Baptist Convention aligns itself with no political party.  Our loyalty is to King Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  You need to know that the White House reached out to us.  Our president, Dr. Steve Gaines, asked me to follow-up on the opportunity. Our interim president of the EC Agi Boto asked me to handle this specific matter.

So in keeping with our SBC history, we have had many government official to address our convention.  We have many other government officials who will be addressing the convention today and tomorrow.  So as in keeping with what the precedent has been in the past, I have sought to carry out my duties in a Christ-honoring way.  Since we’re Baptists the Bible is our final authority for faith and practice, I will let the word of God speak for and to us.

1 Timothy 2:1: “First of all I urge that petition, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for Kings and all those who are in authority.” Verse three says “this is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.

Romans 13:1 says “let everyone submit to the governing authorities.  Titus 3:1 says “Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people.”

I Peter 2:17 for me really sums it up. Honor everyone.  Love the brethren.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor, or some of your translations will say honor the King.  In Act 25:11, Paul even said I appeal to Caesar. So as a committee, we feel to not show hospitality to those in authority would be a bad testimony for Southern Baptists.

On a personal note, if President Obama’s White House had contact us and I was chairman of this committee, we would have exercised the same judgement and welcomed them to the Southern Baptist Convention.

The word of God is clear about our response to all governments, from Rome to the U.S., from Caesar to the President and I believe we respect the position regardless of whether or not you supported or voted for the person.

Therefore we strongly urge the messengers to extend a biblical Christ-like welcome to the Vice President of the United States.  Thank you.

You can judge for yourself what to make of these statements, but I have two very quick thoughts:

  1.  Rev. Ethridge made a pretty compelling biblical case for opposition to the American Revolution and the philosophy that the American Revolution rests upon.
  2. When he says that he would extend the same welcome to Barack Obama, I don’t believe him.  Sorry.  I cannot see that happening.  The same goes for Hillary Clinton.
  3. Why don’t red flags go up when the Trump administration asks to send a surrogate to the Southern Baptist Convention.  Didn’t anyone thing that the administration was using and manipulating them for political gain?  Was this even raised among the committee Ethridge leads?

Watch the entire thing go down here.

Can the Southern Baptist Convention Think of Any More Ways to Shoot Itself in the Foot?

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has announced that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking tomorrow at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas as part of the denomination’s annual meeting.

At a time when the SBC needs to get its house in order, heal wounds, and discuss how it can move forward together, convention leadership has decided to welcome the chief surrogate of one of the most divisive presidential administrations in recent memory.  What are they thinking?

Anyone following religious news in the last several months knows that the #metoo movement has found its way to the largest Protestant denomination in America.  In May, over 3000 SBC women sent an open letter to the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary demanding the firing of Paige Patterson, the seminary president.

As one of the primary architects of the denomination’s “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s, Patterson is a living legend in the SBC. He and his supporters managed to purge the SBC of those who did not believe in biblical inerrancy, a view of the Bible that teaches that the Old and New Testaments, as they were originally written, contain no errors in matters of faith and science.  The conservative resurgence also championed “complementarianism,” a reading of the Bible that teaches male “headship” in marriage, the family, business, and the church.

Patterson was a master political operator.  Along with Paul Pressler, a Houston judge who shared Patterson’s views, inerrancy and complementarianism became official SBC doctrines.

Once the conservatives gained power, Patterson ruled with an iron hand.  Those who disagreed with his views lost leadership positions in churches and seminaries.

But over the course of the last few months, the world that Paige Patterson created has collapsed around him.

Earlier this year, a recording surfaced of Patterson saying that he advised female victims of domestic abuse to stay with their husbands.  Then a video emerged showing Patterson, while preaching a sermon, describing the physical appearance of a teenage girl in an inappropriate manner.

These accounts led other Southern Baptist women to come forward with their own their stories.  When Megan Lively, a former student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during the Patterson’s time as president, was sexually assaulted on campus, Patterson told her not to report the incident to the police.  In describing her meeting with Patterson and his self-proclaimed “proteges,” Lively said the men “shamed the crap out of me.”

In 2015, when a Southwestern student told Patterson that she had been raped, he said he would meet with the student alone, so he could “break her down.”

The Board of Trustees at Southwestern eventually removed Patterson from his post and stripped him of his retirement fringe benefits, including a large home on the Fort Worth campus

Patterson is now gone, but the problem of authoritarian and misogynistic Southern Baptist leaders remains.  The Patterson case exposed the dark side of the SBC and its conservative resurgence.  Albert Mohler, the authoritarian president of Southern Seminary in Louisville and another architect of the conservative resurgence, declared that the “wrath of God” is now being poured out on the convention.

On June 6, Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, fearful that his beloved denomination was falling apart over the Patterson affair, pleaded with his people via Twitter: “Southern Baptists: Refuse disunity within our ranks!  There is nothing biblical or godly relating to creating disunity.”

Apparently, few are listening to Floyd, one of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.  If they were listening, they would not have invited Mike Pence to their convention this week.

By welcoming Mike Pence to Dallas, the convention is sending a message to its members and the rest of the world that it does not really care about healing its wounds.  The opportunity to entertain the Vice President of the United States was obviously just too good for the SBC to pass up.  Healing and repentance will need to wait for another time.

Politics divides Christians.  It always has.  Southern Baptists should know this better than most. The convention was founded in 1845 when Baptists in the South split with Northern Baptists over the most contentious political issue of the age:  slavery.

Anyone who watched SBC leaders bickering and fighting in 2016 over whether to support Donald Trump can testify to the divisive power of politics.  Just ask Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  He almost lost his job for opposing Donald Trump.

Rather than directly confronting the way it has treated women in the past, the SBC has chosen to welcome the chief surrogate of a presidential administration with a long track record of degrading women in public.

Instead of Pence, the SBC should have invited Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly or Heidi Cruz—all victims of Donald Trump’s misogyny.  But that would never happen.   If they were given a major platform at the SBC meeting it would undermine the doctrine of complementarianism.

In a statement on Monday, outgoing SBC president Steve Gaines said that Pence’s speech on Wednesday will “express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation.”

Oh the irony!

Mike Pence Will Visit the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention

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This morning I was talking to a reporter about this week’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The reporter asked me if I thought the Southern Baptists will make some kind of resolution about Donald Trump or any of his policies.

I said I thought that it was highly unlikely that the convention would dabble in politics since it is so divided on whether or not Trump is good for America.  I told the reporter that the convention has enough problems to deal with in the wake of the #metoo and #sbctoo movements and, if they are wise, they would steer clear of politics.   I thought they might take the advice of former Southern Baptist president Ronnie Floyd:

I was apparently wrong.  The convention just announced that Mike Pence will be attending the meeting.

Here is a taste of a report from the Baptist Press:

DALLAS (BP) — Vice President Mike Pence will address the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday (June 13).

The announcement of Pence’s 11 a.m. address to messengers and invited guests at the June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas was made by SBC President Steve Gaines and Grant Ethridge, chairman of the convention’s Committee on Order of Business, in a joint press release today (June 11).

“We are excited to announce Vice President Mike Pence will be attending this year’s SBC annual meeting to express appreciation to Southern Baptists for the contributions we make to the moral fabric of our nation,” Gaines said.

Southern Baptist leaders estimate the number of messengers from the convention’s cooperating churches may approach 11,000 with an additional 4,000 invited guests on the final day of the two-day convention.

“It’s an honor to welcome Vice President Pence,” Ethridge said. “While the Southern Baptist Convention aligns itself with no political party, our program recognizes and honors local, state and national leaders in keeping with 1 Timothy 2:1–2

Read the entire piece here.  The Southern Baptist Convention continues to shoot itself in the foot.

More on the Paige Patterson Story from *The Washington Post*

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Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey continue to work the Paige Patterson story for the Washington Post.  In their recent piece, they share additional stories of women treated poorly by Patterson.  Here is a taste:

Melissa Medley was there from 2010 to 2014 for her undergraduate studies in missions work when, she says, she was groped by her favorite professor. She went to a chaplain, who reported it to Patterson.

Patterson called and was “cordial,” and told her “corny jokes” before addressing the allegation, Medley said.

“The first thing he said was, making sure I understood the severity of what I was saying. I said yes,” said Medley, now pursuing a counseling master’s at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. “He said: ‘Do you have witnesses? Do you have proof?’ ”

She said that Patterson told her he would treat it as a “he said-she said” until he spoke to the professor — who denied everything. That was the end of the process, she said.

“That crushed me, because I knew nothing would be done,” she said.

Medley said she is not angry and, in fact, she “loves” the Southern Baptist Convention and is proud to be part of it. However, “Southern Baptists aren’t taught how to handle these situations. . . . We’ve got things we need to change.”

Ueckert, the board chairman at Southwestern, said last week that he didn’t know of the allegation. The professor denied it in an email to The Post.

Read the entire piece here.

I also found this part of the piece intriguing:

Patterson and a Texas judge named Paul Pressler — who now faces a state lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a man in his Bible study, which he denies — met in a New Orleans cafe to sketch out a plan to get conservatives into all the leadership positions in Southern Baptist institutions, according to historians of religion.

The takeover, which lasted over a decade, was no holds barred, with Patterson keeping files on ideological opponents and cultivating spies in seminaries, according to historical accounts. A 1991 profile in D Magazine — which covers the Dallas area — said Patterson had been “likened to the Rev. Jim Jones and Joe McCarthy” by his critics in the denomination. “He’s been reviled as a power-mad fundamentalist on a witch hunt for heretics.”

Russell Moore: “The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate”

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Check out Adelle Banks‘s piece at RNS on Paige Patterson‘s decision to forego delivering the sermon at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas next week.

Here is a taste:

“The mood of the Southern Baptist Convention right now would be similar to that of the country after Watergate,” said Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in an interview before Patterson’s announcement.

Patterson, an architect of the 1980s Southern Baptist movement known as the “conservative resurgence,” claimed that he still enjoyed support among the delegates, known as messengers, to the annual meeting. “Many messengers have implored me to carry out this assignment, but this convention is not about me,” he said in his statement, “and I have every confidence that this decision is best and right.”

His statement was his most explicit denial of the allegations to date. “I take exception to accusations that I ever knowingly ignored or failed to follow appropriate protocols in cases of reported abuse of women, students, or staff at any institution where I have served,” he said.

Patterson’s downfall is only one of several crises, which some Southern Baptists describe as “volcanic,” that will be roiling next week’s meeting:

Patterson’s downfall is only one of several crises, which some Southern Baptists describe as “volcanic,” that will be roiling next week’s meeting:

In March, Frank Page, the man who handled the day-to-day operations of the SBC outside of its annual meetings, resigned as the president of the Executive Committee after what was described as a “morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.” Committee spokesman Roger S. Oldham said an internal financial audit was conducted after Page’s departure and “there was no legal impropriety that was discovered.”

In October, Paul Pressler, a retired Texas judge and another prominent architect of what critics call a conservative takeover of the denomination, became the subject of a lawsuit by a male former office assistant charging him with decades of sexual abuse. Pressler has denied the allegations. The Southern Baptist Convention and Patterson, both named as co-defendants, have rejected the charges as meritless.

Despite the harrowing headlines, Moore said leaders at all levels of the denomination — which has local associations and state conventions — are trying to determine the best way forward.

“Part of the responsibility that churches and leaders have right now is to teach people through this how to react to such horror in the right way,” Moore said in early June. He said the scandals have helped churches think about how to protect victims of all sorts of abuse.

Read the entire piece here.