Observations About SBC 18.

The Southern Baptist church in which I grew up was in a small town in Arizona, not in the Baptist heartland, but it was made up of members mostly from the South who had migrated west for work.  Most members were civilian employees of the military base at Ft. Huachuca, with a few military personnel.  The next largest contingent were people who worked at a natural gas compression plant owned by a Texas-based company, and most of them were from Texas.  The First Baptist Church in town belonged to another denomination, but the Southern Baptists always managed to find their way into our church, either by recognition of the missions programs and the Sunday School literature, or by the accents of the other church members.

This congregation of about 80 people on a good Sunday (up to 150 on Easter) was very well educated from a denominational perspective.  We always had a lot of participation in missions groups, and we always had at least one church member serving on one of the state convention trustee boards or committees.  At one point, we had a member on what was then the trustee board of the Home Mission Board, and we had a member who served two terms as a trustee of what was then Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.  All of that influence combined to create a personal interest in the work of the denomination on my part, and that included earning an undergraduate degree from the state convention’s college, and a graduate degree from Southwestern Seminary.

I’m an “outsider” now.  After almost a lifetime career in Christian education in institutions owned and operated by Southern Baptists, I accepted a head administrator position in a Christian school that belonged to another denomination, and moved to a part of the country where there’s not an SBC church down the road or around the corner.  The opportunity, which was a lifetime career goal, was the deciding factor, but I have to say that I had reached a point where I was much less stuck on denominational pedigree and identity, and much more attracted to what develops when you cross those man-made ideological boundaries.  And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t put you on any slippery slope.

I watched a good portion of the SBC via the webcam.  Actually, you get a much better view that way than you do sitting in the convention hall.  I was quite curious to see how denominational leadership, and this particular group of messengers, would react to recent events, and how they would go about dealing with what is most definitely a paradigm shift for Southern Baptists.  After a decade of a decline in membership and attendance that puts the SBC in the same category in that regard as the more rapidly declining mainline denominations, and some disastrous numbers about baptisms, followed by a year of reports of scandal involving both “architects” of the Conservative Resurgence, and the Executive Director, the outcome of the convention meeting generated a lot of interest, including my own.  Depending on your perspective, the results might be considered surprising, or predictable.  I’m thinking a little of both.

The “Conservative Resurgence” as a movement is clearly over.  Oh, there’s no danger that the SBC will head toward the edge of “liberalism” again, if indeed it ever really did.  But the movement itself, and the individuals who operated it, have finally had their hands pried off the steering wheel.

Part of the evidence for that claim is that the messengers elected a president with no endorsement from, or connection to, the resurgence leadership.  In fact, he defeated, rather overwhelmingly, the candidate who was endorsed by the resurgence leadership.  J.D. Greear is yet another in a long lineage of mega church pastors who always seem to get elected to the denomination’s presidency, but in some regards, his congregation is different.  While most SBC mega churches grow almost exclusively by attracting members from smaller churches, and most of their baptisms, which happen at a much slower pace than the smaller churches, are children under 12 whose parents already attend church, Greear’s church differs somewhat in that regard, and actually shows attendance growth related to evangelistic activity.  He’s a  supporter of the SBC’s Cooperative Program at a far greater percentage than most churches of its size.  And Greear is a “Calvinist,” which places him outside the doctrinal parameters of all of the SBC presidents who’ve served since before Adrian Rogers started the resurgence movement in 1979.  SBC Calvinists have been tolerated since most are “inerrantists,” but they’ve not been included in the good-ole-boy circle of influence or leadership.  And Greear still isn’t, but that is apparently no longer relevant.

If you need more evidence that there’s been a major shift in attitude, take a look at the vote totals on the motion by Tom Hatley to dismiss the executive committee of the Southwestern Seminary trustees.  It was a motion in support of Paige Patterson, more than anything else.  Apparently, the messengers at this convention represent a group of Southern Baptists who are tired of the tactics used by Patterson to gain influence and do as he pleases, as outlined by trustee Bart Barber prior to the vote being taken.  That, along with the realization that the convention needed to support, and not undermine, trustees, and the motion failed by a massive margin.  I’m still reading blogs and comments where there is a reluctance to admit that Patterson overstayed his welcome, and his day is over, but that doesn’t appear to be the majority view anymore.

The messengers at this convention also made some indirect statements when it comes to right wing politics.  Resistance to allowing the Vice President to speak in person was much higher than you might expect among conservative Evangelicals, slightly over 40% opposed a motion to change the order of business to allow him to speak.  I think that is a sign that Trump’s immorality and lack of values and character is having an effect on his support among conservative Christians, but it is also a sign that the SBC is not made up wholly of white Evangelicals.  Observers of this convention noted a higher than usual percentage of Latino and African American messengers, and opposition to Trump among those groups is as high as the support level among whites.  Pence treated the messengers as a political action committee, not a Christian denomination, causing further consternation about his live appearance.

Messengers also expressed their displeasure for agenda-driven selection of trustee board members by giving a second term to an ERLC trustee from the Kansas-Nebraska convention who has been a supporter of the executive director Russell Moore.  Though Dan Anderson had only served one term, and expressed an interest in serving a second, the committee on boards attempted to replace him with someone who was opposed to Moore’s position on Trump.  There had been threats from disgruntled Southern Baptists to overturn this board in order to get at Moore, but this particular effort failed to get enough support to do so, and Anderson was re-elected to his second term by a rather overwhelming floor vote.

I don’t think this means that a majority of Southern Baptists have finally realized that being “conservative” theologically and doctrinally is not directly tied to right-wing politics.  There are some obvious contradictions between right wing political positions and Biblical Christianity, and conversely, obvious consistency between some left wing political positions and Biblical Christianity, but I’m not going to get into that here.  What this does represent, however, is an acceptance on the part of those who attended this convention as messengers of the fact that one’s political opinions and perspectives are not a factor in a denominational executive’s ability to do their job, and that there is no consistency with Biblical Christianity in using someone’s job as a way to enforce conformity.  That is a shift from the way the SBC has been doing business for a long, long time.

There is not a mechanism within the SBC to resolve the problems that have created the statistical declines.  It is not a top-down denomination.  There are 50,000 independent, autonomous churches affiliated through a cooperative missions support program, and the churches are at the top of the organizational chart, not the bottom.  What happens to the SBC is that what happens to the churches affects the denominational institutions and agencies that they support.  NAMB cannot underwrite or organize the kind of church planting effort that local churches could do themselves.  The seminaries train leadership that is licensed and ordained at the church level.  The IMB sends out missionaries based on the support provided by the churches.  Churches decline because of internal issues, not because of something the denomination has done.

The median age of the average church member in the SBC is somewhere around 60 years of age, and like most denominations, its churches are made up of those generations of people who understand denominational branding and believe in “distinctives” that are mainly semantics centered on leftover reformation theology.  If there was a “typical” SBC church you could walk into these days, what you’d see is a large, well decorated, traditional auditorium with the pews half full of mostly gray heads, and a small scattering of children and youth.  You’d also see a way of doing things that has been well adjusted to a small, inner circle of the active, older members.  And that would explain what you’re seeing.  When you see a fair number of those kinds of churches either get to the point where they are forced to change, or they disband, and a new congregation still affiliate with the SBC gets to take over the building, you’ll see the numbers do a reverse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For Southern Baptists, a Lesson Learned

This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit.  Isaiah 66:2b, NIV

By now, most people are aware that Dr. Paige Patterson, one of the media-described “architects” of the “Conservative Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention, has been terminated from all connections with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The decision, made yesterday by the executive committee of the board of trustees, was a stunning reversal of a previous decision making him President Emeritus, and providing him with continued salary and on-campus housing.  The issue had expanded from his previous remarks and handling of situations related to spousal abuse, to a specific incident which occurred at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary while he was still serving as President there.  Any Baptist news media outlet will provide the details.

This isn’t a discussion of Patterson, or what he did.  It is a discussion of how the Southern Baptist Convention, and by extension Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, got to this point, and where it goes from here.  I’m a graduate of Southwestern.  I have an M.A. in what they called “religious education” in the past, received in 1989 after two and a half years and 68 hours of graduate level courses in theological studies, educational pedagogy and behavioral science.  I was one of more than 5,000 students at Southwestern when I enrolled, more than 4,000 on the same campus in Ft. Worth.

The “Conservative Resurgence” that began in 1979 was eight years into its announced task of replacing trustee board members with those who believed in Biblical inerrancy when I came to Ft. Worth.  Though there was always talk about how that was affecting the SBC, at Southwestern, I never encountered a professor in a classroom who taught anything that resembled the “liberalism” I’d heard about as being prevalent in the SBC schools.  Southwestern was a cradle of Baptist orthodoxy in its conservative form.  It was not “fundamentalist” in that it insisted on prescribing specific details of specific interpretations of scripture, but I think you’d have been hard pressed to find any professor, or even staff member, who wouldn’t agree to the BFM’s statement that the Bible had, for its matter, “Truth, without any mixture of error.” [see the Baptist Faith and Message, 1963 version].

No Biblical Model for Exalting Leadership

There is not a model in scripture for a church or denomination to follow that allows for the exalting of leadership.  Jesus was a servant leader, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  [Philippians 2:6-9, ESV]  His church has no hierarchy, and no power structure.  Its offices require one who is called to serve to submit to God’s authority, and to exercise spiritual gifts given by God, above any human reason, education or experience.

One of the most distinctive marks of Baptist identity is the nature of the Christian church.  As it is described in the New Testament, Baptists believe that there is no hierarchy or power structure in the church, but that each congregation is independent and autonomous, accountable before God for fulfilling what it senses as its own ministry calling.  Though highly critical of Catholics and some of the mainline Protestant denominations with a hierarchical structure, the Southern Baptist Convention has built a power structure into its own denominational apparatus that has created a hierarchy, based on prominence and influence, and on positions which have control over institutions and agencies, that is every bit as hierarchical as the Catholic priesthood.  Getting there takes an investment of time, influence and visibility, especially in the Baptist-operated media.  It takes either having friends who have managed to get themselves onto boards and committees, or making friends with those already there.

Then it was 1979, and there was the Conservative Resurgence.

Many Southern Baptists were already disenchanted with denominational leadership that appeared to be exclusive and entrenched, with a very narrow group of individuals, from a very small group of churches, rotating from board to board, committee to committee, appointing their friends to trustee boards and hiring their friends for top salaried denominational jobs.  By using the theological issue of “creeping liberalism”, the rallying cry of fidelity to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, and the general “bust up the good-ole-boys club” attitude, the resurgence leadership succeeded in turning all of the trustee boards and committees over to members committed to inerrancy.  They also succeeded in developing a network of loyal followers willing to violate all of the rules and protocols, and safeguards against nepotism to reward leaders with the positions they wanted.

I’ve heard the Conservative Resurgence described as a movement, of which Pressler and Patterson were considered “architects,” that “restored the Southern Baptist Convention to its conservative roots.”  I don’t think it had to really go very far to do that.  The vast majority of Southern Baptists were already conservative, and already believed in inerrancy.  The movement could not have sustained itself, and gathered the messenger support that it needed over the course of more than a decade to turn over the boards and committees if that had not been the case.  But when change happens, especially in a Christian denomination, great care must be exercised to keep ambition from getting in the way of principle.  The goal of the Conservative Resurgence was to restore a great denomination to its Biblical foundations, not to use the power that would be gained in the process to secure denominational jobs and influence for those who were leading the movement.

So there is a tendency to want to show appreciation to those who have accomplished something that appears to be necessary by rewarding them in some way.  Noting that the servant leadership model set by Jesus himself led him to crucifixion at the hands of pagans, there should not be any expectation of reward as a result of the accomplishment of some specific goal.  And the fact of the matter is that not all Southern Baptists, by a long shot, and not all Southern Baptist theological conservatives, were necessarily on board with the methods used by the “architects” of the Conservative Resurgence.  Nor have a majority of Southern Baptists been on board with handing over a good portion of the denominational “spoils” of the battle to them, ether.

What has happened to the denomination since the resurgence put its own people on the boards and committees has not been something to celebrate.  Baptism numbers, which resurgence leaders claimed were tanking because of the “liberal” leadership of the SBC, continued to decline under their leadership, and are now well below half of what they were in 1978, prior to the first resurgence candidate being elected SBC president.  Membership increases became smaller with each succeeding year, and the SBC has now lost a million members over the course of the last decade.  Weekly worship attendance has declined by more than half a million, to a number below the 5 million mark for the first time since the 60’s.  Sunday School enrollment and attendance are down 10% over the course of a decade.  Seminary enrollment is half what it was at its peak in the 1980’s.  NAMB has endured a financial and logistical disaster.  The IMB is struggling.  The venerable Cooperative Program is fluctuating, though the overall trend is showing a decrease, but there has been sustained pressure on state conventions to cut their own receipts to “give more.”  Giving through the state conventions is down 10% over the course of a decade, though some states have experienced much more severe drops.  By any measure of success, that’s not what it looks like.

Ambition Should Not Get in the Way of Principle

The goal of the conservative resurgence was to restore a Christian denomination to its Biblical roots.  It would not have been possible for either Patterson or Pressler to accomplish this goal as an officer, denominational employee or trustee board member.  Patterson didn’t make a run for the SBC presidency until long after control of the boards was secure.  It is my belief that he first went to Southeastern before making the move to Ft. Worth to make sure that the move would not be seen as motivated by ambition and carried out by influence, because under any other circumstance, a move from a tiny, struggling Bible college to the SBC’s largest and most influential seminary wouldn’t have been considered likely.  His supporters would insist that he was qualified for both seminary posts, though he was a major influence in trustee selection at both schools long before he went to either one.  Prestige and influence aside, this ended very badly for Dr. Patterson.  It also ended badly for Southwestern Seminary.

The Southern Baptist Convention itself has not been unified around a conservative banner.  There was always a group opposed to the tactics being used by Patterson and Pressler to control the SBC, “a subversive and militaristic solution” as one friend describes it.  Ironically, though both Patterson and Pressler were Texans, and belonged to some of the largest and most influential Baptist congregations in the state, Texas Baptists as a whole never really warmed up to either one of them.  The result of their efforts in that state was a nasty quarrel that split the state convention, along with a lot of churches and associations.  The majority, including a clear majority of conservatives, went to the side opposite Pressler and Patterson.  Over a period of several years, the majority of the Texas contingent at Southwestern departed, and that has been a major factor in its enrollment and financial decline.

The divisions within the SBC during almost all of the period of time that it has been under the control of the conservative resurgence are sharpening and widening.  The 2018 convention is shaping up to be one of the most contentious in a decade, and one of the noisiest factions is the group that still rallies around the old guard of the conservative resurgence.  With the SBC experiencing declines across the board of the same proportion as some of the mainline Protestant denominations its leaders once scorned for the same reason, and with one of its seminaries in need of a major rebuilding and renewal, there is still a group spoiling for a fight.

The View from Seminary Hill

I’m still quite partial to Southwestern Seminary.  It was a place where I experienced one of the most significant spiritual revivals in my life.  In two and a half years, almost a lifetime’s worth of spiritual formation was poured in, resulting from the instruction of professors, fellowship with students and staff, and serving in practicums and internships in a variety of local churches.  The campus was called Seminary Hill, but unless you were approaching it from another direction, you couldn’t really see it as a high point.  From a spiritual perspective, though, it certainly was.

I believe that Southwestern Seminary is a bellwether of SBC institutional life, and that what happens there will have an effect on how things turn across the rest of the convention.  It is worth the effort to restore it, and provide it with leadership that can make it a viable institution capable of training generations of future Christian leaders.  This isn’t about one leader in its life, it is about the worth of the school as a place where pastors, missionaries and humble servants of God encounter the Holy Spirit, and experience personal revival.  The SBC needs it to be what it once was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Your Friends, the Southern Baptists

The title of this article was taken from the tag line of a public service announcement that the SBC’s Radio and Television Commission once distributed to television stations.  A little character called “Jot” would deliver a short, Biblically focused message and invite people to make their way to a church, preferably a nearby Southern Baptist congregation.  I’m not sure if the effectiveness of it was ever measured, but it was catchy.

A Personal “Pedigree” 

I’m not big on having to establish a denominational “pedigree” in order to write about a denominational issue.  But I understand that there are those who need that in order to read what you write.  My attendance at a Southern Baptist church began when I was in the nursery.  I was baptized at six, can remember when the Sunday School classes were called Beginners, Primary and Intermediate, and when the missions group was called Sunbeams.  I went to a Southern Baptist college, graduated with a degree in secondary education, and finished a graduate degree in Christian education at the venerable Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  In all of that, I came under the conviction of the Spirit, and was redeemed by Jesus, who is my Lord and Savior.  I’m a theological conservative, not a fundamentalist by definition, but easily in agreement with the Baptist Faith and Message.

In 2010, I accepted a position with an institution that belongs to another denomination, and moved to a county in the northeast where there isn’t an SBC congregation.  I remained connected to a ministry of one of the SBC agencies until last summer, when job requirements, and the physical slowdown that comes with getting older, caused me to give it up.  I still have an opinion, and maybe one that includes a sliver of objectivity that isn’t colored by a denominational pedigree.

On the Patterson Issue

I’m not going to argue, one way or another, whether Patterson’s view of women in abusive relationships is correct, or whether the advice and counsel he gave to a wife in an abusive relationship was right or wrong.  He’s explained his view, clarified his position, re-clarified it in concert with the trustees at Southwestern Seminary, and even apologized for the misunderstanding.  That’s not the issue surrounding Paige Patterson.

The problem is the deference, and continued extension of exception and privilege he receives from a segment of Southern Baptists that continue to express their admiration and adoration for him because of his role in leadership of the Conservative Resurgence.  This has included the use of his personal influence to gain posts as president of two of the denomination’s seminaries, Southeastern, which was known as one of the most liberal of the six schools prior to the resurgence, and Southwestern, which was the prize that he wanted from the outset.  But in his role as a self-appointed leader of the Conservative Resurgence, Patterson’s influence extended to boards and committees he wasn’t elected or invited to serve.  That was part of his role in pushing the conservative influence in the SBC forward, something he and his supporters considered necessary to reclaim the SBC.  But not all Southern Baptist conservatives were on board with doing it his way, and not all have accepted the unlimited perks card he carries.

Patterson has continued to use his methodology long after the conservative leadership of the SBC has been established, and continues to expect perks and privileges on the cooperative program’s dime.  The problem is now compounded by the fact that many of those in the conservative resurgence who ascended to leadership positions in the denomination no longer approve of continuing to push forward by the kind of influence peddling that is Patterson’s trademark and modus operandi.  And there are serious questions about his leadership at Southwestern, once the most influential of all Southern Baptist theological schools, and the largest one in the world.  A serious decline in the school’s enrollment, which produced a financial crisis and questions about specific unilateral actions Patterson has taken as President, has caused some Southern Baptists to question his ability to continue to lead the school, as well as the deference among some SBC leaders which allows him to call his own shots.  And so a conflict has erupted between Patterson’s staunchest supporters, those in the “he can do no wrong” camp, and other conservatives who feel that there is a level of accountability and responsibility required of all leaders, regardless of what they’ve done.

This has created a new reason to divide Southern Baptists on lines of religious/political support at a time when the crisis of an accelerating decline in membership and attendance is looming.

 

The New Theological Controversy

There’s a lot of caustic rhetoric going on between Reformed Baptists, and the “we’re not Calvinist in any way” group, the later of which is the largest and most influential group in the Southern Baptist Convention, represented by some of the “old guard” of the conservative resurgence.  Many of the moderate Baptists who were displaced by the resurgence leadership predicted that there would be ongoing disputes and fights in the denomination, once the threshold of controversy over doctrine was crossed, and this is apparent fulfillment of their prophecy.  From where I sit, this doesn’t look like a fully involved conflagration, at least not yet, but it is a brush fire that is destroying some sheds and outbuildings.

The very nature of a Baptist denomination, with the degree of church independence and autonomy that is present, and the loose confederation of the denominational apparatus, which applies perfectly to the SBC, means that there will always be the presence of various Reformation strains of theology and practice within the groups of voluntarily affiliated congregations.  Though most Southern Baptists are extremely comfortable with the blend of Anglican principle and Anabaptist theology that is at the core of Baptist formation, there are strains of almost all other Reformation-era influences in Baptist denominations, including a good dose of Lutheranism and Calvinism, and a sprinkling (no pun intended) of Wesleyan and New England Puritan/Congregational thought.

One of the specific elements that kept me linked to my own Baptist roots, which were only one generation deep in my family, was the fact that the Baptist church in which I grew up was more concerned with Christian fellowship than it was with some nebulous concept of theological and doctrinal purity with a Baptist label on it.  Not being located in an area where Southerners were particularly numerous, the church membership consisted of a fellowship of about 80 people whose ties to the congregation were relational, who were willing to set aside secondary and tertiary practices from their own backgrounds in order to be unified, and who made the church a spiritual home.  Since that time, I have been in several Southern Baptist churches that were so concerned with a distinctive, Southern Baptist identity that they were incapable of reaching into a population that wasn’t already steeped in that tradition.  I think that may explain why the SBC is seeing the decline in attendance and membership become so sharp and steep.  The low hanging fruit and fertile ground of culture in which the denomination was rooted no longer exists, and the “Southern-ness” and “Baptist-ness” of the churches is repulsive to people who aren’t familiar with it.  Those things are not, by the way, inherently Christian.

It’s clear that the denominational structure of the SBC has little appeal for what is now its youngest generation, mostly now in its 40’s and 50’s.  David Platt may be the best example of this.  Offered a position that most Southern Baptists would consider to be a lifetime career, he went back to what he was doing before in just four short years.  The interest in something that must be preserved by animosity and convention floor fights won’t appeal to the middle aged group that is the “younger” generation in the SBC.  Younger than that, well, they’re already gone.  Rather than seeking the prestige and prominence, and perks that go along with sugarplum denominational jobs, there’s more of an interest in effective ministry, a good thing of course, but not for interest in denominational institutions.

Denominations can kill ministries.  Even stepping outside the SBC for a while, to work for an educational institution in another denomination, I have discovered all of the baggage that comes with ownership by a denomination that has a large constituency of churches and self-appointed prominent individuals to please.  The nuances and habits may be different, but the obstacles are the same, reducing ministry effectiveness, and tagging the institution with labels and baggage that almost seem deliberately aimed at turning people off and excluding them.   We always say “everyone welcome” until they come with ideas, and want to help.

I think another theological controversy in the SBC will be a strong signal to any potential leadership that is still capable of helping bring growth that they are not welcome, and that the established way of doing things will not change to accommodate the times.  I’m not talking about any kind of compromise of the SBC’s conservative theological stance, I’m just saying that unless the SBC structure is open to change that is fed by the ideas of new leadership, it will never reverse the membership and attendance decline it is now experiencing, and it will continue to experience decline, and controversy that will shut down progress.

Update:  Since this post was made, Dr. Patterson was made “President Emeritus” of Southwestern Seminary, effective immediately, with salary and benefits, and will be moved into an apartment in the school’s new Baptist Heritage Center.  Since Southwestern is supported by Cooperative Program dollars, Southern Baptists will be paying for his retirement and housing out of their collection plates.  

 

 

 

Silence is Not the Right Thing to do

You adulterous people!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  James 4:4-5 ESV

This is a real mess, it’s complicated, and it will get worse.

We have a President who has hired an attorney to be his “fixer.”  That’s because he is corrupt, immoral, has a lot of money, wants to do whatever he pleases, and his public image needs protection, and cleaning up from time to time.  So his fixer, attorney Michael Cohen, whose morals and integrity are also up for serious debate, pays off a porn star just a few days prior to the election to keep her from spilling the beans about an affair she’d had with the President around the time his youngest child was born.

I expect the secular world to shrug this off indifferently.  Though that kind of attitude contributes to this sort of behavior continuing, and to the powerful and wealthy like Trump thinking they can live above the law, and above community standards, but, hey, it is a secular society after all, isn’t it.

What has been spectacularly shocking is the silence that is coming from the Evangelical Christian community.  Yep, chirping crickets and all of those illusory terms, those in our society who have been the most insistent about the character and behavior of politicians, and accountability, are silent.  And beyond the silence, they are excusing their inaction, and what can be rightly interpreted as an attitude that values politics far above faith, by catchy little phrases such as, “We’re electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief.”  As if there’s any theological correctness in holding pastors to higher standards than anyone else, or to avoiding holding the leader of the country to any standard, depending, of course, on his political affiliation.

You don’t need much imagination to figure out how loud the shrieking voices, pounding pulpits and caustic criticism would be if the behavior that the current President regularly indulges in, much of it since his convenience conversion prior to the 2016 election, had been done by a Democrat.  Most people can easily remember the high pitched shrieking and hollering during the Clinton administration, the nasty remarks, the complete dismissal of his regular church attendance, and the mockery made of the counsel he sought, privately and without a lot of fanfare, during a process of repentance.  All of that came from self-proclaimed, conservative, Evangelical, “religious right” leaders, and it was relentless.

There’s really not any way to compare bad behavior to bad behavior.  Immorality is immorality, and most of the Christian leaders who smacked Clinton over the head with a leather bound Bible would say so.  Trump is different in that he has openly admitted his affairs, including a ham-fisted, evolving and changing story with plenty of lies thrown in about the Daniels affair.  He’s bragged about it, and about sexually assaulting women, which is why those details are so well known.  You can’t claim ignorance, or blame what is known about Trump on the “liberal media.”  You can be as ignorant and blind about his politics as you want, but this stuff isn’t “fake news.”

And so this silence from the group of Evangelicals who are among Trump’s most loyal supporters is an indictment of their hypocrisy.  Within the scope of conservative, Evangelical teaching, there is no allowance at all for not taking a stand against the adultery and the lying, the demeaning disrespect shown for women, and toward anyone who calls him out, and the obvious lack of any kind of moral compass or respect for principles and teachings that Evangelicals claim have been revealed by God himself.  Such behavior, as the Bible says, demonstrates “enmity” toward God.  But most of the self-proclaimed Evangelicals who have traded their faith for politics have set their Bibles down in order to continue to support Trump.  What most of his more vocal, and high profile Evangelical supporters have in common with him is wealth, and the same attitude about the law not applying to them because of it.  Apparently, they don’t think the Bible applies to them, either.

Many of these same self-proclaimed leaders were some of Bill Clinton’s most caustic and vocal critics.  I can’t recall anyone distinguishing between a “commander in chief” and a “pastor in chief” when it came to Monica Lewinsky.  It wasn’t the conservative media that broke the story, and none of these leaders had any problem citing the mainstream media that did, nor did they shy away from appearing on it to voice their opinion and perspective, and call for his impeachment.

There is a segment of the Evangelical community in this country that hasn’t soiled its garments with secular politics.  Maybe they are contributing to the sense of silence on this issue, but I respect their desire to keep politics and politicians out of their pulpits and churches.  And there are a few who see this for exactly what it is, and who have spoken against the immorality, dishonesty, and total lack of character exhibited by this President.  Among their Christian brethren, some of them have paid a high price for it, because respect for a different political opinion doesn’t seem to be a core value exhibited by many Evangelicals, either.  What does it say about the spiritual condition of a soul that ignores the core principles of Christian faith to openly approve of immorality, and then breaks off fellowship with fellow Christians who have the moral courage and conviction to speak out?

I haven’t seen a lot of research, but I have little doubt that the downturn in the number of new converts won to Christ in Evangelical churches, and the sharp drop in attendance and membership that a vast majority of their churches are now experiencing is the result of disgusted Christians getting mixed messages about the worship of wealth and power over God.  Perhaps the blessing in this will be to separate the goats from the sheep among the Evangelical movement, and those who are in it for the ministry, not the money, will not be affected by the downturn in membership and attendance that is growing worse by the day.  God does have a way of protecting those who genuinely serve Him.

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  Psalm 146:3

 

 

 

What’s Different This Time?

It’s been a little over a month since a gunman murdered 17 people inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida.  With most of the other spectacular mass shootings of recent years, the publicity is wearing off, the media coverage is waning, and people have moved on.  You’d think that walking into a small church and ending the lives of more than half the congregation would have been a catalyst for something, especially since it hadn’t been that long before that the same thing happened in a small church in Tennessee.  Surely taking the lives of elementary school children and teachers would have led to a longer lasting effect, or the murder of eight Amish female students in their schoolhouse.  What is it about the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School that has created the firestorm that has followed?

Have we finally had enough?  Why has this event generated what no other mass shooting has started?

Location

Florida is a state with lax gun laws, and a high level of gun-related crime and violence.  There was a lot of publicity focused on the Trayvon Martin case, and following that, the Pulse nightclub shooting shocked the Orlando community, and cast a shadow on the tourist business.  That was a prime example of a mass shooting that could have been prevented with an in-depth background check law.  But the people in that nightclub were mostly gay and lesbian, and didn’t get a lot of public sympathy.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is a large, suburban high school, mostly Caucasian, in a wealthy suburb of Ft. Lauderdale.  In most measurements, it is probably not different from very many other mostly white, affluent suburban high schools across the country.  But things forever changed when the shooter started pulling the trigger, and murdered 17 people on the campus, teachers and students.  Perhaps those scenes of students running out of buildings with their hands over their heads was the thing that led to the conclusion that enough is enough.  Perhaps Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School looks like too many other suburban, upper middle class, mostly white high schools and what happened there frightened a large segment of the population who could identify with similar scenes.

Florida is somewhat of a microcosm of the rest of the country, particularly South Florida, where a majority of the population has roots elsewhere, and migrated from many other locations.  While there is a “gun culture” that exists in places, the urban and suburban areas of the cities clustered along its southeastern coastline is not one of them.  Much like the Sandy Hook shooting in suburban Connecticut, this was a shocking event that most people never thought could happen in their community.

The Students

Not all high school students eat tide pods for fun, and certainly some of those from MSDHS who had been through this traumatic experience aren’t part of that crowd.  They are intelligent, and they are reacting based on their own experience, which is something that cannot be taken away from them.  It’s their constitutional right, and they are exercising it.

It’s not that the students at MSDHS are more intelligent, or more politically active, than those at other similar schools.  But among the students who we saw in the video footage exiting the building with hands over their heads, tearfully reuniting with family members, were those whose experience led to action.  Students in schools across the country have been exposed to active shooter drills, evacuation drills and learning procedures to protect themselves in the event someone gets inside their school building with a weapon, intent on doing harm.  The consistent reminder of what could happen is frightening.  Many students, capable of reason, have given a lot of consideration to the whole discussion of preventing these kinds of incidents from occurring, and have already been involved in the debate over curbing gun violence, among other issues.

The reaction from students of any school attacked in this manner these days would have been similar.  The other factors that developed in the wake of this shooting combined with the active involvement of students from this particular high school to become the vehicle of change.

The Political Climate

The Trump Administration has created a political climate that is making it possible for many issues considered “progressive,” or “from the left,” for lack of a better way of describing them, to gain traction.  Since his inauguration in January of 2017, the Democrats have gained significant favor in political polls, enabling them to pull off a string of election wins that would have been considered impossible a year ago.  The special elections for Congressional seats in Montana, Kansas and Georgia to replace representatives serving in the Trump Administration, demonstrated that Democrats could make major inroads in elections in heavily Republican districts and states if they put some resources in place.  Since Jon Ossoff’s remarkable performance, gathering 49% of the total vote, and 15% higher vote totals than the number of registered Democrats in his district, Democrats have picked up a string of state legislative seats, flipped a governor’s race, gained more seats in a state legislature than ever before in its history, and won a deep red congressional district in Pennsylvania, and a senate seat in Alabama, one of the most Republican states in the country.  Their fund raising for the 2018 mid-terms sits at historic record highs while their opponents have had to go into debt to finance their part of these elections.

That’s made it possible for the gun control message picked up by the students at MSDHS to make some major progress in getting the issue addressed.  After the Sandy Hook shooting, the parents of the victims gained a lot of ground in this regard.  They succeeded in getting the state government in Connecticut to pass comprehensive gun control legislation.  Those laws were debated, weighted against second amendment rights for their constitutionality, and successfully passed both the legislature, and court rulings about their constitutionality.  I’d argue that state-based regulation is more effective than federal legislation, and easier to enforce.  Looking at the data, Connecticut has certainly achieved its purpose, leaving the rights of law abiding gun owners intact while the rates of gun violence, gun-related crime, and the overall crime rate have dropped significantly.

The threat of “voting out” politicians because of their lack of action on gun control legislation has had limited effect in the past.  But a lot of conservative legislators have seen quite a shift in support away from the Republican party due to the chaos and confusion the Trump presidency has stirred up among voters.  That’s made many of them more than willing to re-evaluate their position on gun control legislation.  And while it was pointed out that many of the students involved in the activism generated by the students at MSDHS aren’t old enough to vote, those who are already 18, or will be that old by the time most registration deadlines for the 2018 mid-terms roll around, make up about half of the movement’s total number.  They registered more than a million new voters across the country during their rally last week.  In one day.  And most of these students have convinced their parents to vote with them.  If you aren’t inclined to believe “news media” reports and numbers, just look at the way politicians are reacting to them.  They’ve seen the internal poll numbers, and that has clearly frightened most of those who take NRA money.

The Experience

There’s been a movement like this brewing ever since we first saw the images coming out of Columbine High School.  There’s been a frustration developing over what seems to be almost helplessness of law enforcement, community services, and government, to keep kids safe at school.  People have grown weary over hearing politicians give out their “thoughts and prayers” to victims’ families, and turn around and act like they don’t care when it comes to using the power of their office to do something about it.

Solutions to problems come from open discussion.  That’s probably the most important thing created by this movement and the students who are leading it.  Many of those who have responded don’t share the same opinion or position, but they’re stepping up to talk about a solution.  Those who are finding fault, and making personal criticisms of the students (like Laura Ingraham) without bothering to verify the truth of their statements are excluding themselves from the discussion, and sacrificing their credibility.

This is why we study history.  Education makes it possible for people to understand that having a second amendment right does not necessitate living with mass murder in schools and entertainment venues.  Nor does it validate rhetoric that separates a gun from the person using it to commit mass murder.  The argument that this is simply an effort to ban private gun ownership and take away guns from law abiding citizens is an ignorant, uniformed, inaccurate straw man.  There is plenty of evidence to indicate that this is not the case.  And I think people have caught on, and a gradual realization of this is helping the students, and the gun control advocates, gain traction and favor with voters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will More Guns in School Resolve the Safety and Security Issue?

No.

It seems logical.  Let some teachers get concealed carry permits, buy pistols, pack them in their purses or briefcases, or carry them under your jacket or sweater, strapped to your body, ready to use at a moment’s notice.  That will solve the problem of active shooters coming on campus to murder students and staff.  That’s a predictable response, especially from people who don’t understand what it is like to work in an educational environment, and who are blinded by political rhetoric to the reality of what is actually happening.  But it won’t work.  Frankly, I think it will make things worse than they already are, if that can be done.

Anyone who knows anything about weapons, especially firearms, knows that a person with a concealed carry permit and a pistol is no match for a calculated killer with an assault rifle.  There might be a few more bullets popping around, and there’s an outside chance that a teacher might be able to concentrate, get into position, aim and fire in the middle of a hail of bullets from a modified semi-automatic weapon firing at random, but it is more likely that the teacher would draw negative attention and be shot themselves, not to mention how confusing or difficult it would be if dozens of students are milling around, trying to get themselves to safety.

So what about training?  Can teachers, and other school employees, be given the kind of training necessary to confront an active shooter situation?  Look at how extensively police officers are trained for the same thing.  If you advocate for this method, the necessary training would be extensive.  That is in addition to the high level of training teachers must already undergo to be qualified to teach.  And we’re not just talking about schools here, because mass shootings aren’t limited to them.  In Texas, it was a church.  In Arizona, it was a shopping center parking lot.  In Colorado, it was a movie theater.  Could you find a politician willing to forgo tax cuts to the wealthy in order to pay the massive amount of money it would cost to do this?  Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.  The vast majority of law enforcement agencies in this country say this is a bad idea, and that’s a virtually unanimous opinion among those who have had a school shooting occur in their jurisdiction.

Teachers are educators.  Putting the additional responsibility of being a campus security guard into their job description is not going to make a school any safer, nor will it make the education being provided more effective.  What if the shooter is a student, or a former student?  After being trained in the way that they are, how easy will it be for a teacher to pull the trigger?  And will they survive the split second it takes for that thought to run through their mind before they make that decision?  What parent will think that their children will be safer, or better served,  in a school where their child’s third grade teacher has a pistol, and would be the first line of defense if an intruder walked into their school building?

Think about this with some common sense.  An active shooter with a modified AK-15 and dozens of rounds of ammunition gets into a back entrance of a high school, pulls the fire alarm and starts shooting.  Responding to the gunfire, and to announcements that there is a shooter in the building, trained teachers pull their weapons.  There are still students running for cover in the hallways, some in classrooms, some in common areas like the library or cafeteria, and the gunman pulls the trigger and sprays bullets.  A few teachers decide they have to do something, and start firing back.  Now there’s crossfire.  The shooter finds cover and waits.  Or finds a place where he can still see fleeing students, and keeps pulling the trigger.  The police enter the building.  Their first sight, upon reaching the second floor where the shooting is coming from, is a guy ducked down behind a cinder block half-wall, firing a pistol their direction down the hallway where other shots are being heard.  The police naturally assume it is a teacher with a gun, and leave him alone.  Right?   Turning schools into war zones is not the answer to this problem.

It would make more sense to provide trained, armed security guards on campuses, and control the entrances and exits.  Some schools already do this, as a result of circumstances related to their location, or as a reaction to the potential problems that exist when you have a school where 2,000 teenagers come to class every day.  We already do this at airports.  Every time I enter a state or federal government building, I have to show ID and pass through a security post with a metal detector.  Though we have an aversion to the appearance of elementary students walking through a metal detector, past an armed security guard to get into their school each day, if it keeps the kids and staff safe, we need to get used to the idea.  Here’s the problem with that.  Getting the politicians to put up the money for it is a problem.  Already loathe to spend money on education anyway, those of a particular political persuasion would likely not be willing to give up tax cuts for the wealthy, and for high profit corporate business in order to protect the children of poor Americans in public schools.  They’ve already weighed the cost of school security, and done what they’ve wanted with the money, which is why we are still, decades after the first school shooting, still having problems with it.

What makes more sense than any other plan is simply restricting access to the kinds of weapons designed exclusively for the taking of human life.  No sensible, legitimate, “law abiding” gun owner sees the ownership of an assault rifle as an expression of the right to bear arms, or as necessary for self-protection.  Doing this doesn’t damage the second amendment.  It puts a dent in gun manufacturer and seller’s profits, which, in turn is against the prevailing political philosophy of one side of the aisle in Washington.  But if you really believe in the sanctity of human life, how much profit is one human being worth?

And this is a sanctity of life issue.  What purpose does it serve to go to great lengths to protect and preserve the life of the unborn when you aren’t nearly as passionate about making sure that same life isn’t gunned down in a school classroom 16 years later?  It is hypocritical to have a desire to criminalize the use of instruments which are used to perform a procedure that ends the life of a child in the womb, but be in favor of completely unrestricted use of instruments which ends the life of children in school.  There is no difference between a medical doctor performing an abortion, and a gun show operator providing someone with the means to shoot kids for target practice.

 

 

 

What’s Happening with the New Baptist Covenant?

The New Baptist Covenant creates vibrant, inclusive Baptist communities, building bridges in places previously marked by division. We are called by God to champion the weak and oppressed, honor the diverse workings of the Holy Spirit and to share the love of Christ. Our work is rooted in the words of Jesus Christ found in Luke 4:18-19:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free.

This statement comes from the New Baptist Covenant’s website, and is found as part of the definition of its mission and purpose.  You remember the New Baptist Covenant?  The organization founded by Jimmy Carter, assisted by Bill Clinton, in 2006 as a means to bring segregated Baptist denominations and church bodies together for the purpose of building “covenant relationships” to engage in social justice ministry.  That was its narrower purpose, but during the first gathering in Atlanta, many of the speakers envisioned the covenant as a means of drawing various Baptists together in other ways, and laying the foundation for a greater unity and cooperation between the churches and denominations that share the common theology, practice, and the name name, “Baptists.”

So what’s happened to the New Baptist Covenant?

It’s still there.  There are Baptist groups and churches which become involved, engage in covenant relationships with churches of like faith and order but a different racial makeup, and do social justice ministry together.  And that’s a good thing, wherever it is happening.  Baptists, like most other Protestant church groups in the United States, remain far more racially segregated than the culture at large, so when churches are working together, pooling resources and doing some good, especially in the realm of social justice, it’s good, and it is also a very effective way to model the gospel.

It’s still meeting.  It has summits which feature worship times, speakers drawn from the Baptist constituency that supports it, mostly individuals with prominent jobs within the various denominational groupings.  After the initial gathering in 2006, where several African American denominations were meeting together in a historic show of unity, the attendance and participation has been quite small, the result of the fact that most Baptists haven’t caught the vision, and don’t participate.  At the initial gathering, news media reports stated that the delegates in attendance represented Baptist denominations with a collective membership of over 20 million.  But the nature of Baptist gatherings is not representative.  No Baptist speaks for another, so if there are ten thousand delegates from 20 different denominations with a collective membership of 20 million, there is no representation by anyone in attendance of any Baptist who isn’t there.  And it’s become pretty clear, in the years since its formation, that only a few thousand Baptists, out of the more than 30 million people who are members of a Baptist church in the US, are involved in the New Baptist Covenant.

So why didn’t this movement get off the ground, so to speak, and start a move toward Baptist unity, as its founders hoped?

A majority of Baptists in the United States belong to denominations that can easily be labelled as “conservative” from a doctrinal and theological perspective.  The Southern Baptist Convention accounts for slightly more than half of all Baptist church members in the US.   Another large conservative Baptist constituency is found in churches that label themselves “Independent Fundamental Baptist.”  The SBC is not likely to support any group in which the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is involved, and they are one of the groups that participated in the organization of the Covenant.  There are some Southern Baptists who see the value of it, and some churches which have become engaged and involved, but as a denomination, there is no support, and very few churches and individuals have made a commitment to the Covenant.

Independent Fundamental Baptists generally don’t get involved in anything that doesn’t demonstrate an exact line up with their doctrinal positions.  They see the Covenant as a gathering of “liberals” and there are few, if any, of their members or churches willing to get involved.

Unfortunately, social justice ministry isn’t a high priority for many conservative Baptists.  Seen more as a fief of more liberal Baptist denominations, mainly because it is the leadership of those groups that are prominent advocates for this kind of ministry, the conservatives don’t cooperate.  There is persistent resistance to cooperating with any other Christian groups that don’t share some of the common doctrinal marks of more conservative Baptists, and something like the covenant looks “ecumenical,” which they see as doctrinal and theological compromise.  But social justice ministry is a model of the application of the gospel.  It is a more effective means of planting seeds for evangelism than some of the methods churches use now.

“Baptist unity,” too, is a fleeting concept.  Outside of a few common doctrines, and some common church practices, mainly the idea of the independent, non-connectional, congregational local church and baptism by immersion following a testimony of faith in Christ as savior, there is not much which Baptists share.  The Southern Baptist Convention is build around its missions ministries, and theological seminaries, and is not interested in cooperating in ministry because it does not need to do so.  The nature of an Independent Fundamental Baptist church is that you can’t work with anyone else because they might not have right doctrine.  And they incorrectly see any form of Christian cooperation as automatic endorsement of everything those other Christians believe.  Their colleges and universities don’t mind accepting tuition dollars from the majority of their students who don’t attend or belong to Baptist churches, but they won’t work together with the church down the street to build a better neighborhood for the kids or families.

So the Covenant continues.  It’s small, it has become relatively unknown and ignored by most Baptists, but it is still there, and it forms a valuable foundation and framework for social justice and ministry cooperation between the Baptists who are interested in using it as a resource.  And to be honest with you, I’m not so sure Baptist unity would be all that good.

 

 

The Super Bowl, God, and the Struggle Between Good and Evil

When I’ve lived in a large metropolitan area with a professional football team, I’ve tried to be a fan.  It’s been tough at times, more fun at others, but I’m really more of a purist when it comes to football, and I’d rather be in the bleachers on a Friday night at a high school game or in a backless metal seat in a college stadium than watching a pro game on a Sunday afternoon.  I can literally count on one hand the times I’ve seen an NFL game live.  But I do watch the Super Bowl.

It would have been hard not to have been interested in this one.  The success of the Eagles over the course of the season runs counter to the normally predictable NFL pattern.  The NFL is usually a math equation, with the predictable performance of players paid premium salaries to deliver at a predictable pace.  When a team loses a key player to injury, like Philadelphia did when they lost their starting quarterback to injury, it’s supposed to change the outlook.  Players like Nick Foles aren’t supposed to make a difference.  But he did.

I grew up near Tucson, Arizona, and have been a lifelong fan of the Arizona Wildcats.  So this Super Bowl was particularly interesting because it featured three former Wildcat players.  Rob Gronkowski has made a name for himself as Tom Brady’s top receiver.  Marquis Flowers is one of the Patriot’s top defensive ends.  And of course, there was Nick Foles, who had made a name for himself in his short time as the Philadelphia quarterback.

The matchup was fascinating for social media.  The Patriots have replaced the Dallas Cowboys as the most hated team in the NFL, largely because of the ingrained trait of hatred of success.  They’re just a good team, consistent, and they have a coach who is, whether you like him or not, one of the masterminds of the game.  He gets the players he needs who are capable of executing a game plan that wins, and they do.

People discovered that the Eagles have a core of quarterbacks who are also Evangelical Christians.  Foles is studying to become a pastor.  Carson Wentz is an evangelist who has led several teammates to faith in Christ and baptized some of them.  If hating the Patriots wasn’t enough motivation to cheer for the Eagles, knowing that some of the players were open about their Christian faith certainly created some.  It was “God’s team,” and there was some open implication that the Patriots were playing for the other side.  Wink, wink.

Don’t get me wrong, I was glad for Foles, and for the Eagles, and for what their victory represented and meant to their team.   I’m glad that the coach, and some of the players, were open about sharing their faith, but not obnoxious about it.  It was a great game.  Not only did the former Wildcat Foles distinguish himself, but so did former Wildcat Rob Gronkowski, who, once he warmed up, was the player whose performance led the Patriot comeback.  The defensive play of former Wildcat Marquis Flowers was also a factor in slowing down the Philadelphia offense.

But I don’t think it matters to God who wins the Super Bowl.  I don’t think he used his sovereign power to top the balance in favor of the Eagles because a couple of their players are pastors, and I don’t think the Eagles win is some kind of symbolic victory for Christ followers and a Biblical worldview.

It was a game.  There will be another season and another Super Bowl.

 

 

 

Sending the Wrong Message

Many of the names that we’ve seen in the news over the past several months have been those of men who have left their jobs, been fired, or were removed from a position because they were accused of sexual harassment or abuse.  They are, of course, the high profile individuals whose positions have them in the public eye already, so it seems that we are seeing some kind of epidemic.  It’s really not that, but the way we report news now is such that more people become aware of the high profile stuff more quickly.

The standards for the threshold of what defines sexual harassment, and sexual abuse of women are quite different among the various cultures and human populations of the world.  What we see as something that is intolerable and disgusting is viewed as common practice in some cultures, and there are places where women endure far worse abuse, and are considered subservient and unequal simply because of their gender.  Frankly, as far as I am concerned, it is correct to evaluate a culture as backward and inferior based on its allowance of abuse based on gender, race, or any other characteristic that separates an individual from the majority.

After what I’ve seen in the past months, I’m really wondering where we are on this issue.

It is apparent that the pass that is given for unacceptable behavior, especially toward women, depends on your political view.  Christian leaders, many of whom once declared that character and integrity were among the most important elements in a candidate for political office, have supported, at least twice within the past year, one candidate whose lifestyle, public actions, personal philosophy, and words, are virtually diametrically opposed to any form of Christian faith or principle, and another whose past wasn’t really all that much of a secret, who had been banned from a mall because there was enough evidence to indicate he, an adult in his 30’s, was stalking teenage females for the purposes of asking them out, and physically molesting them.

On the surface, they gave lip service to the right politics, and that’s all that matters now.  One of them, yeah, it’s Trump, actually provided a rationale for electing the other, Roy Moore, because he would be better than the other guy, a “liberal,” in the senate, and he would support the Trump agenda.  Lacking any real definition of “liberal,” other than some vague, nebulous, alleged support for abortion, and perhaps for same-gender marriage, it was white, conservative Christians who banded together to support Moore, leaving the job of redeeming Alabama from a reputation as some kind of political backwater full of inbred, paranoid nut jobs to the African Americans, inner city liberals, college and university students, educators, labor unions and high techsters.  They came through.  Among them were a few white, Protestant and Evangelical Christians who saw the credibility in the details and circumstances about Moore’s past, along with the insidious racism and irrational fear stirred by his political positions and previous actions.

Character has to matter again, and along side that contention, the realization needs to sink in that lip service to a pro-life, anti-same gender marriage position is not enough to ensure the effectiveness, productivity, and above all the integrity of an effective public servant.  Electing politicians to office who are verbally committed to ending abortion and preserving traditional marriage has been ineffective at best, and a failure, in all honesty, because both things are now more accessible and widespread than they were before the “Religious right” was formed.  In addition, a lot of incompetent individuals have been elected to office because voters were single issue, and didn’t look past the lip service to actual qualifications.

If you’re really serious about ending abortion, and you’re not in favor of same-gender marriage, if you’re a Christian, you actually do have an answer and a solution to the problem.  Put some effort into evangelism, and then put some more effort into effective Christian discipleship.  Heart issues require life transformation.  The Christian life teaches the sanctity of life, and it also teaches self-respect, accompanied by personal morality.   Life transformation and a life that glorifies God is the most effective way to lower the abortion numbers.  How can you teach that, and endorse, with support and a vote, candidates whose lives are examples of an opposite way of life?

 

 

Opinions Change. Values Don’t.

Some of the most caustic and harsh criticism ever made by the group of Evangelical Christians that has become identified as the “Religious Right” was directed at Bill Clinton.  Not only were they right on top of extra-marital affairs he was reported to have had, but they were critical because he had been accused of sexual assault against at least three other women, including one of those with whom he had been rumored to have had an affair.  They claimed that character in a politician mattered, and that extra-marital affairs were a sign of a character flaw that disqualified Clinton from the Presidency.  You can check the record, the rhetoric was varied in its intensity, but that was exactly what was said.  They were right, as far as I am concerned.

They also pushed the issue raised by several women who accused Clinton of unwanted sexual advances.  Even more than the extra-marital affairs, the Religious Right insisted that the women should be heard, and that their words should be weighed against his for truthfulness, and that he should be held accountable, and be forced to resign if the evidence pointed to his guilt.  Ironically, the woman at the center of the issue that involved his eventual impeachment never accused him of unwanted advances, and has stated that she was a willing participant.

The Religious Right has always stood with his accusers and against Clinton.  They believed the accusers, even though it was basically just their word against his, and the only evidence that turned up in their support was some corroboration of his behavior patterns.  There was never enough to charge him, and in at least one case, and alleged in another, the women also had a record of behavior with men that didn’t contribute to their credibility.  But the leadership of the Religious Right, including many of those who are still recognized as such today, insisted on applying Biblical values and Christian standards to the behavior of national leaders, and indicted Clinton on those principles.  Rightly so.

The Bible’s values and Christian standards have not changed.  But apparently, the “Religious Right” has decided, for the sake of political expedience, not to insist on their application to the behavior of national leaders anymore.  Women came forward in much larger numbers, with much more evidence of unwanted sexual advances on the part of Donald Trump, including corroborating testimony, photographs, and video, along with his own conversation admitting to such behavior, and the Religious Right went silent.  There was a little bit of a weak attempt to excuse the silence by claiming that they were simply doing what the left did with Clinton, but admiring and emulating the behavior of the “left” is not consistent with their claimed values, or their previous words.

Now there’s Roy Moore.

Moore is a darling of the Religious Right, and he is one of them.  He’s an active member of a Southern Baptist church and his political views come from the extreme right wing of the movement, where white supremacy is still accepted theology and doctrine.  And while his racism, and his misconduct in office as a court justice aren’t consistent behaviors with Christian standards derived from the Bible, he’s provided mid-level leadership, and is a featured speaker and presenter at various Religious Right events.  The credibility of the movement has been chipped away over the years by their continued support for individuals that turned out not to meet their previously proclaimed standards of moral conduct (like Newt Gingrich and Bob Packwood, among others) and by their looking past George W. Bush’s endorsement of Islam as a legitimate pathway to God, and his acceptance of same-gender marriage.  It was seriously damaged by the almost wholesale support they gave to Donald Trump.  But now, any credibility they have left lies in the hands of those who claim to be part of their influence among the voters within the state of Alabama.

All of it.

The credibility of Conservative Evangelical Christianity, as an identified movement of churches and Christians, is now in the hands of their like-minded brethren in the state of Alabama.  They have to hope that there are enough of them in the state who hold Biblical values and Christian standards in higher regard than partisan political ambition, and will act on that belief.  For some, that might just mean staying away from the polls on election day, if they sincerely believe that voting for a Democrat runs counter to their values.  For others, it might mean doing their homework, discovering that the Democrat isn’t standing against their values, and casting a ballot for him.  Because if Moore wins, the hypocrisy of their previous words and position is exposed, and they’ve abandoned the gospel they claim to preach for the sake of political gain and worldly power.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings who cannot save.”  Psalm 146:3, NIV

Mainline denominations began experiencing a decline in membership and attendance in the 1960’s due to what their critics said was a theological shift to the left, and the advance of liberal theology.  Evangelical churches and denominations are now in a fully involved decline in membership and attendance of at least equal number and proportion, attributed by many observers and analysts to the marriage of the movement to conservative politics, and the dependence on worldly power to attain spiritual goals.   The church researchers are loathe to discuss it, but in most cases are honest enough to produce the evidence which supports it.  Maybe the Alabama Senate special election will provide the kick in the pants that Evangelical Christians need to turn their focus away from the use of political influence to advance their cause back to the Biblical values and Christian standards, and to the wind of movement of the Holy Spirit.