From the accounts of his actions in the gospels and the book of Acts to the time he wrote two notable epistles to persecuted Christians, Peter is one of the best New Testament examples of what a maturing Christian looks like. I once had a high school Bible class do a character analysis of Peter, using all of the descriptive passages they could find, and then see if they could contrast what they found with what they could discern about the character of the man who wrote I and II Peter, based on what he wrote. From a high point where he declared that Jesus was “the Christ, the son of the living God,” to his impetuous behavior in the garden when he sliced off the ear of the high priest’s servant, to his lowest point when he denied ever having been with Jesus, Peter shows us the remarkable reach of God’s grace and the importance of living a life which testifies to it.
“Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ. may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. I Peter 3:13-17, ESV
Peter writes these words to encourage a church that was becoming disheartened and broken because they were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus. So this apostle, yes, the very same one who grabbed his sword to defend Jesus in the face of his arrest, reminds the church that if they are suffering for righteousness, they will be blessed. The better response, the one that will set a good example, the one that will be faithful to Jesus, is to defend what they believe gently and respectfully, not with a sword or a sharp tongue.
A long anticipated meeting of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention took place last week. The nation’s largest Evangelical Protestant denomination is trying to get past a devastating sexual abuse scandal involving pastors and church leaders on a similar scale as that which has plagued the Roman Catholic Church for several decades now. Once it hit the news cycle, the attempts of the denomination’s leadership to deal with it, including providing comfort and help to the victims in a manner that reflects a commitment to Christian ministry principles, to deal with pending incidents and cases including those occurring within the agencies directly operated by the convention as well as those in churches which are independent and autonomous and only voluntarily affiliated, have drawn more criticism than praise.
The anticipation involved presentation of Vision 2025, a new emphasis and plan laid out by the new executive director of the SBC’s executive committee, Dr. Ronnie Floyd. The whole meeting was billed as a positive step forward, encouragement and renewal for a denomination that has experienced more than a decade of attendance and membership decline for a variety of other reasons besides being scandalized and embarrassed by the revelation of the sexual abuse taking place. Unfortunately, secular politics reared its ugly head and cast a dark shadow over what little enthusiasm and excitement the meeting might have generated. A denomination that claims, in its Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted in 2000, that the Bible has, for its matter, “truth without any mixture of error,” seems to frequently ignore passages like the one I cited above from Peter when it conducts its business.
Even though the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), a very efficiently organized office that advocates on behalf of Southern Baptists in Washington, DC, had been one of the brightest spots in the denomination’s attempts to recover from the sexual abuse scandal, its executive director, Dr. Russell Moore, has constantly been under fire because he is not a supporter of the sitting President. Not that support for a partisan political perspective, or partisan politicians, is part of the ERLC’s mission and purpose–it’s not–but that just doesn’t sit well with some Southern Baptists. So, there’s a small group of detractors within the denomination who, in an effort to punish Moore for his personal opinion, which has nothing to do with his operation of the ERLC, want to either defund it by removing its budget, or figure out a way to get him fired.
I’m wondering how those efforts fit with the scripture, especially with the one I cited above from 1 Peter.
The ERLC has a very clearly stated purpose. It was formed when the SBC decided to pull out of the Baptist Joint Committee for Public Affairs (now the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) and took on the SBC’s religious liberty interests directly. You can read about what they do on their website, but the ERLC gives Southern Baptists one of its best returns on Cooperative Program dollars. There is nothing in its purpose, or in the work that it does, which remotely suggests it should take partisan sides in arguments, or that its executive director must support a sitting Republican president and oppose a sitting Democratic president. Southern Baptists don’t need a denominational entity to tell them who to vote for or who to support. Moore’s lack of support for Trump has no effect on the operation of the ERLC any more than Al Mohler’s has on Southern Seminary.
The Southern Baptist convention has clearly affirmed Moore’s leadership of the ERLC. Several attempts to head down the road of removing him or defunding the entity have overwhelmingly been turned down by messengers at the convention. The attempt at this past week’s Executive Committee meeting to force an investigation into the ERLC is first of all dishonest, because it is clear that it is not related to anything the ERLC has done, but is yet another attempt to try and silence him because he is a high profile Evangelical voice in opposition to the sitting President.
In combination with other action, in which the Executive Committee essentially took over the Pastor’s conference leadership because they were getting complaints about the lineup of speakers, it seems like the Executive Committee of the SBC did a great job of covering up the optimism and good news that came from the announcement of Floyd’s initiatives. The Executive Committee is still operating under the impression that a few powerful and influential individuals can use the power of their positions to get their way, regardless of what the rest of the convention’s constituency does or says, in some cases, in direct opposition to what the constituency does and says. In that regard, Southern Baptists are not unlike the Roman Catholic church.