Explain This!

Beth Moore is a popular author and well known Bible teacher among Evangelical Christians.  She’s connected to Lifeway Christian Publishers in Nashville which is the publishing house owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention and she is a member of a large SBC congregation in Houston.

Her career hasn’t been without some level of controversy in a denomination that took a conservative turn in 1979, particularly with regard to doctrinal positions regarding the role of women in the church.  There were SBC churches that were moving in a more liberal direction with regard to the role of women in the church, including some who had opened deacon ordination to women and a few who were ordaining women to the gospel ministry.  The direction the SBC took in 1979 put an end to most of that movement and made what a church does with a woman in ministry a test of denominational fellowship, removing from status as a “cooperating church” any congregation that called a female to their pulpit and codifying a belief that the role of “senior pastor” was reserved for men only in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the statement of SBC denominational doctrinal fidelity.

The prevailing view is called “complimentarianism.”  It is a way of putting the perspective that most Southern Baptists share about the role of women in the church in a more positive light.  It includes the belief that women cannot hold ordained leadership roles in the church.  In more conservative circles, there is a literal application of passages from the New Testament, primarily Paul, which state that women are to be silent in the church, not asking questions but referring what they want to know to their husbands at home.  That’s the environment in which Moore has done her writing and teaching.  I’d say she’s done pretty well.  Well enough to be asked to preach from a pulpit on Mother’s Day and stir up a storm of controversy about whether or not a woman should preach.

I’ve encountered few Southern Baptist churches that apply this teaching consistently.  In every SBC congregation where I’ve been a member, women are not kept completely silent.  They’ve been able to pray publicly, to participate in business meetings, to use their prophetic gift as the scripture says they have been given and to have an active life and role in the church.  No church were I’ve ever been a member would have continued to exist without the women doing what they were called to do because no church where I’ve ever been a member had enough men willing to lead where they were called to serve.

Moore has taken quite a bit of criticism, to which she has responded admirably, patiently and scripturally.  She’s not a woman with an ambition to serve a church as a pastor but in the strict complimentarian perspective that so many Southern Baptists take, her high profile status is more than they think she should be allowed to have because she is a woman.

And because her name isn’t Paula White and she’s not the current occupant of the White House’s spiritual advisor.

I haven’t seen many complimentarian Southern Baptists say much at all about the fact that the President has chosen a female, who also serves a church in the senior pastor role which is a no-no big enough to get you kicked out of the SBC, but which seems to be absolutely fine because the President, or at least this President, gets a pass on something like this.

On top of the fact that White occupies a pastoral role in a church that Southern Baptists have explicitly stated belongs only to men, she also holds to a theology that most Baptists consider heresy, or at least close enough to virtually disqualify its followers from salvation by grace through faith in Christ.  She is a promoter and preacher of the prosperity gospel, an unbiblical philosophical system that justifies getting rich by whatever means are available because God wants you to be happy, healthy and wealthy.  There’s no Biblical support for her theological perspective at all.  From my perspective, the prosperity gospel is heresy, by definition.  So as far as Southern Baptists, as well as most of the rest of conservative, Evangelical Christianity is concerned, Paula White is out of the will of God on one count and a false preacher and teacher on another.

I can see why she would appeal to this particular President.

But many of those Southern Baptists who were so mean-spirited in their criticism of Beth Moore’s invitation to bring a mother’s day message from a church pulpit openly accept White, not because she is right, not because she is Biblical or anything close to it, but because she’s the President’s spiritual advisor, the President they like.  Paula White preaches every Sunday and many days in-between and they are silent.  That speaks volumes to me about, well, about a whole lot of things.

Many Southern Baptists were among the critics from the religious right who railed against President Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, taking a few sentences from a sermon he preached completely out of context and making such a fuss and an issue that it forced the President to sever his ties to the church.  Wright was pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, affiliated with a denomination that does have a few theological differences with Evangelical Christians though not anywhere as serious as the divide between the Biblical gospel and the prosperity gospel.  The UCC does allow for women to be ordained and to serve as pastors, though there are only a handful out of more than 5,000 in the whole denomination.  The critics were silenced for the most part when the Obamas chose to worship most frequently at a Baptist church in the city of Washington and on occasion, to sit under the preaching of an ordained Southern Baptist chaplain who preached the Protestant services at Navy Chapel.  Paula White is much further out of the ball park than Jeremiah Wright.  Where’s the hollering?

Beth Moore, a Biblically sound and highly regarded Bible teacher isn’t welcome in a Southern Baptist pulpit because she is a woman.  But given the chance, how many Southern Baptist pastors would rush at the chance to have Paula White preach in their pulpit?  And how much criticism have you heard from Southern Baptists about this particular woman preacher or this particular prosperity gospel promoter?

You know exactly how this is being perceived.

Not by Might, nor by Power, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts

Reflections on the “Culture War,” Evangelical Christian Involvement in Political Endorsements and the Character of Candidates and Office Holders


Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:  Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the LORD of hosts.:  Zechariah 4:6 ESV

In Genesis, there is an account of God’s promise to Abraham and his offspring.  The problem was that at the time God made that promise, Abraham’s wife, Sarai, hadn’t had any children and was, by reasonable consideration, too old to have any.  Understanding how God worked was still a very new experience to these two Mesopotamians who had only very recently been introduced to the idea of the existence of an all-powerful creator God who loved his creation.  Abraham decided to fulfill God’s promise by resorting to his own wisdom and power.  He and his wife owned a female slave, an Egyptian woman named Hagar.  They decided to use their power over her, as her “owners” to have a child that they thought Sarai could not have on her own.  They used the worldly power of ownership and the sin of adultery for Hagar to conceive and bear a son that they would raise as their own.

God fulfilled his promises to Abraham in spite of this failure to depend on him.  Their perspective certainly changed when Sarai gave birth to Isaac at ninety years of age, in the way that God had promised and which was faithful to his character.  But God had given all of Abraham’s descendants a promise, which he was faithful to honor in spite of Abraham’s turning to his own power and will to accomplish God’s will.  God blessed Abraham’s son Ishmael, the offspring of Hagar, with the same promise he had made intending for it to be for Sarai’s son.  But once Isaac was born, Sarai’s perspective changed considerably, leading to yet another sinful act by ordering Abraham to banish Ishmael and Hagar from their home.  The end result was not the intended outcome.  God went around the acts produced by human reason and wisdom and accomplished his purpose anyway, but not the way Abraham expected.

I don’t think it is a far reach to use that account as a good illustration of the “culture wars” in which many American Evangelical Christians have chosen to participate.  They have aligned themselves with a secular political position in order to accomplish what they see as God’s will for America.  What it amounts to, more than anything, is a desire to return to a time when, because of numbers and influence, Protestant Christians dominated American politics to their own financial and political benefit.  Churches, specifically Protestant churches, were the “more equal” among equals.  In fact, they benefitted from government favor to the detriment and at the expense of Catholics, the non-religious and the adherents of other world religions.

Under the new covenant with Christ, Christians who have engaged in the “culture war” have the cart before the horse.  They are attempting to require behavior that is associated with Christian values and practices by requirement of the law, not out of conviction by the Spirit.  That’s contrary to the Bible’s teaching that such change is produced only by a spiritual transformation, not forced conformity.  Winning elections rather than winning souls has become the focus of many members of the church and the results of years of pushing hard in this direction are being felt as the majority of Evangelical churches have become rapidly aging congregations with rapidly declining membership and attendance.

But there is a bigger side-effect to lining up as an army in the culture war.  In the forceful give-and-take, “what’s in it for me?” world of secular politics, Christians find themselves supporting politicians who do not always share their values or practice their morality.  Christian leaders are distracted from the gospel message while becoming advocates for positions that don’t reflect Biblical standards or ethics or which, in some cases, put them at odds with true Biblical orthodoxy.  In recent years, well known Christian leaders have advocated for economic policy that clearly favor the wealthy and put the poor at a disadvantage.  They have supported cuts in federal funding which provide resources for programs that are lifelines to the economically disadvantaged.  They have supported draconian immigration laws and policies which violate not only Biblical standards but which are anti-American as well.

From a personal perspective, I’m opposed to abortion as anything but a last resort effort to save one life or the other.  I believe marriage is an established family institution involving only one man and one woman.  But I also believe that real science proves the existence of global warming which has been produced by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere caused by rapid industrialization and the advance of the automobile.  I believe that quality health care is a basic human right, is a full extension of the right to life that exists from conception and that we need to reform our system to remove the practice of profiting from pain, illness and the fear we all have of death.  I don’t vote based on a single issue.  I also won’t compromise my character by assassinating that of others who take a different perspective with name calling (libtards and feminazis being two of the most despicable that I’ve heard).  That’s a tactic of the “culture war” and that’s one of the best arguments I can make against getting involved in it.

I believe the United States is seen around the world as a refuge from oppression and as a land of opportunity and that vision needs to continue.  It’s who we are.  I don’t believe in compelling people to conform to specific Christian teachings, or any religious traditions or teaching, by the support of the law.  We live in a religiously pluralistic society where all people have the right to choose and practice their own faith according to their conscience.  But I also believe that Christians have the right to practice their faith just as freely as anyone else.  I think we are commanded, by the Great Commission, to find a place in our culture where we earn the right to be heard and effectively live out the gospel of Jesus in a way that leads to transformed lives by the grace of God through faith in Christ, not through government influence or fiat.

I believe the public officials we elect should be people with trustworthy moral character.  No one is perfect but a politician who can’t commit to a marriage relationship isn’t going to commit to the requirements of public office either.  A candidate who can’t be trusted in a business relationship to be honest and straightforward will lie while in office and seek to serve his own interests, not ours.

As Christians (and not just Evangelicals) have immersed themselves in agenda-driven partisan politics, they have had to take ownership of political positions and actions that fall outside the boundaries of their mission and purpose.  They have endorsed and publicly supported politicians whose lifestyles and moral choices are not anywhere near consistent with the kind of character they claim is necessary to set an example as a leader while being critical of “the other side” for doing the same.  Many of the posts I see on social media sites claiming to be from Christians and Christian sources show that they have bought into the caustic, hostile war that turns political opponents who are fellow American citizens into enemies, justified by no argument except “they do it too.”

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”  says the Apostle Peter.  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

Much of the criticism of “Evangelical Christians” when it comes to their political involvement has nothing to do with preaching the gospel and everything to do with their defense of secular political positions.

I’m a pacifist, a conviction and position I arrived at because of Biblical teaching.  “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Matthew 5:9 “for they shall be called sons of God.”  A “culture war” isn’t fought on terms compatible with Christian values or Biblical principles.  It is not peacemaking, nor is it consistent with the Biblical value of peace.  It is the use of human wisdom to impose a particular interpretation or belief system through worldly power and influence.  The use of the term “war” implies methods not compatible with peace and therefore not compatible with Biblical teaching.  It requires taking positions contrary to the values and principles of Christian faith and being “unequally yoked” with unbelievers whose interest in the support of Christians is based on the number of votes they can deliver, not on the accomplishment of any kind of spiritual objective.  It causes churches to set aside their mission and purpose as the body of Christ, defined in the Bible and take up secular political positions, promoting things that have nothing to do with discipleship, worship, fellowship, ministry or evangelism.  The ground that churches are commanded to gain in scripture can never be conquered through faulty alliances with the world and on false pretenses when it comes to the will of God.

Conversion is the result of genuine transformation which occurs when a person is covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, acknowledging him as savior and Lord.  I John 4:2 says:  By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”  Making that confession leads to the only kind of spiritual transformation that will lead someone to experience conviction of their sin.  The aim of a culture war is cultural, not spiritual transformation.  The only way the culture’s problems will get solved is through spiritual transformation, not by a political war.