At the conclusion of a recent Chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on March 8th, I stood in line to shake Judge Paul Pressler’s hand—an iconic and venerated figure in Southern Baptist Convention life. Judge Pressler greeted me warmly, as he always does. I immediately noticed that he was visibly and emotionally shaken at my presence; and I soon discovered in our friendly, but brief, conversation the reason why. My presence reminded him of a not-so-pleasant experience for him that took place at the Annual Southern Baptist Convention that met in St. Louis this past June.
Let me explain. I was not present in St. Louis, but a resolution that I submitted regarding the Confederate Flag generated much discussion and diverse opinions. Thankfully, the resolution overwhelmingly passed, and that action documented and evidenced a major turning point and quantum step forward regarding race relations and biblical righteousness in the SBC. It brought hope and encouragement to many American Americans in the SBC and unity to the entire Convention. However, due to parliamentary procedures and convention-established protocol, Judge Pressler was not permitted to address the Confederate Flag Resolution; and that decision may impact his desire to attend future SBC Annual Meetings. Not being allowed to address the Confederate Flag Resolution on the floor of the Annual Convention inflicted a deep wound or was received as one—on Judge Pressler that remains. Not being allowed to speak on the floor was the roots and fruit of Judge Pressler’s lingering rage and contemplation of never returning to a SBC Annual gathering. It was not the fact that I submitted the resolution that caused the rage. Our relationship and friendship remains intact. Not being able to speak on the floor of the Convention caused the rage.
I left our conversation with heartfelt identification with Judge Pressler’s pain, over feeling rejected because of a sense that my (our) freedom to speak was censured—rightly or wrongly—in different contexts—by an SBC official—on a SBC platform. We both felt entitled in our perspective forums to say what we wanted to say and what I did have an opportunity to say; but we were both publically censured, and we both felt rejected. Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, censured a sermon that I preached in Chapel in August 2006, that appealed to the SBC to not restrict the private prayers of IMB missionaries. Dr. Patterson favored the restriction of the private prayers of IMB missionaries. Dr. Patterson and I enjoy a relationship today not impacted by his decision to remove my message from the Seminary Library and release a statement that essentially denounced my Chapel sermon. I will go down in history as the only Chapel speaker in SWBTS history whose sermon was publically denounced. Yet, we have a mutually respectful and friendly relationship because of our shared Great Commission goals.
Therefore, I could feel Judge Pressler’s pain as I left his presence, weeping with him. I obviously disagree with his position on the issue. However, I’ve always loved, admired and appreciated Judge Pressler. Our personalities, convictions, and willingness to fight for what we believe to the bitter end, are similar. Nevertheless, the resolution passed without Judge Pressler being allowed to speak to it. I deeply regret that a decorated Southern Baptist patriarch, Christian soldier and aged sage was wounded in the process. Again, I share his pain, in spite of our different positions on the issue.
The passing of the Confederate Flag Resolution stands second only to the election of Dr. Fred Luter as President of the SBC, as the pinnacle signature moment in SBC history, regarding a statement on racial unity, healing and reconciliation. Judge Pressler’s legacy may have suffered damage had he spoken his sincere, valid and innocuous reasons for opposing the resolution. His speaking would have also resulted in generating huge, negative publicity for the SBC, based on the content of his speech and his emotional outrage toward the resolution. A SBC church planter that my church sponsored was seated on the floor of the Convention and sent me a text while Judge Pressler was standing on the floor waiting to speak, describing “a guy screaming because he is upset about it” [The Confederate Flag Resolution]. This young church planter didn’t recognize Judge Paul Pressler’s face; but I was watching on live stream and immediately knew who this was “screaming” because he was upset about the Flag resolution and/or not being able to speak. For that reason I’m grateful that circumstances didn’t allow him to speak. But my heart bleeds that the Southern Baptist Convention is filled with tension, wounds, division, uncertainty and distrust over a plethora of issues—that include, but not limited to: the ever simmering Traditionalist/Calvinist debate; the Cooperative Program/Prestonwood/ERLC/Trump debate; the residual divisions over the IMB baptismal/tongues policies; and the Confederate Flag Resolution debate.
Our Convention needs healing and a baptism of unity. A house divided against itself cannot stand. I pray that Judge Pressler’s heart is healed and love for attending the SBC Annual Meeting will return soon. We don’t need to leave any Southern Baptists behind—especially one with Judge Pressler’s illustrious history, as the father and architect of the much needed Conservative Resurgence in the SBC. Because of his historic role in restoring, systematizing, and mainstreaming the theological foundation of biblical inerrancy throughout SBC life, Judge Pressler is a celebrated figure among those of us who appreciate the Conservative Resurgence. Biblical Inerrancy was/is “A Hill on Which to Die” (which is the title of the book written by Judge Pressler detailing the inerrancy battle in the SBC). The Confederate Flag Resolution was/is not “A Hill on Which to Die.”
Neither is an alignment with and official sanctioning of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party “A Hill on Which to Die.” I join with my President, Pastor Byron Day, of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention in appealing for unity in the life of our Convention. Although I’m unsure of whom the target audience might have been, but I concur with a recent tweet by my friend Bob Roberts: “mixing the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of man always leads to a fake kingdom.” The SBC will morph into a “fake kingdom” if they continue this horrid love affair and identification with the Republican Party, particularly while Donald Trump is President.
Tony Evans is renowned for saying, “God is not riding the backs of donkeys or elephants. He doesn’t take sides, He takes over.” God is neither Republican nor Democrat. It would be a travesty for our Convention to make a decision that would be widely and rightfully interpreted as aligning us with the Republican Party. It would be equally unwise and unholy to align the SBC with the Democratic Party. We must always, at all times, on all matters adopt biblical positions on issues that align us with the Kingdom of God and not political parties of this world (John 18:36). The SBC should hammer out a biblical position on all issues; but never should we be branded or identified with either party. We must speak prophetically to both.
We must find a way to come together under one tent at one time, in spite of our various and sundry views on a multitude of issues. We must gather under the banner of Jesus, the Christ and affirm our unity and belief in One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One Hope, One Calling and One God, who is the Father of All.
I am hopeful for the SBC. The following statement will sound arrogant and prideful, but I believe it. The SBC is the only denomination because of its current racial diversity and theological orthodoxy that I believe is primed and pumped to be a conduit that God will use to bring revival to our nation again. But there are a few rough edges, yet, for God to knock off in the SBC before He can use our denomination to the fullest extent.
Somehow the SBC has to figure out a way for a patriarchal and yet-needed figure, as Judge Pressler, who opposed the Confederate Flag Resolution—to work side-by-side in harmony and mutual respect and love with Kyle J. Howard—a young African-American Church Planter and Southern Seminary graduate who is excited about the Confederate Flag Resolution passing, yet troubled and baffled by the SBC love affair and duplicity related to President Donald Trump; as are many African-American SBC constituents.
Kyle J. Howard: “…As an African American church planter in the SBC, I wept and rejoiced at last year’s convention as the denomination denounced the confederate flag. Within a year, it went from denouncing racism to embracing a white nationalist who is also clearly a racist to anyone with ears to hear. I am disappointed in the SBC but also not surprised. I am a year out or so from planting, I will most likely not plant with NAMB at this point.” (Kyle Howard’s reply on Brent Hobbs’ comment on a Facebook post; https://www.facebook.com/brent.hobbs/posts/702191107998?pnref=story)
The simple point and purpose of this article is to plead for unity in our Convention and to make sure that the SBC understand that alignment with the Republican Party is not “A Hill On Which To Die.” My prayer for Frank Page is that God will give him the grace to orchestrate these diverse views and opposing factions toward a common good. Each person must give up their right to be right and bury the hatchet for the advancement of the Kingdom. The beauty of the SBC is that a Judge Pressler and Kyle Howard belong to the same Convention. The challenge of the SBC is that both men are quite wounded at the moment for obviously different reasons. It is not easy to administrate diversity in the most diverse evangelical denomination on the planet. Again, Frank Page needs our prayers.
How can a Judge Pressler and a Kyle Howard love each other and—in spite of their different positions on The Confederate Flag and work together in harmony in the same Baptist Convention? How can a Paige Patterson and Dwight McKissic love each other and—in spite of our differences over the biblical legitimacy of praying in tongues in private, and the freedom that should be allowed IMB missionaries to pray in private as led and gifted by the Spirit—and yet work together in harmony in the same Baptist Convention to advance the Kingdom of God? I tell you how: by focusing on the Kingdom of God and prioritizing His Kingdom over our political and theological differences. If our unity is centered in the Kingdom of God and not our culture, politics and secondary and tertiary theology outside of the BF&M 2000—we will learn to live with our differences and love each other through them. The Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) recognizes that there will be diversity in God’s Kingdom. How can Frank Page, President Steve Gaines, the Executive Committee of the SBC, or anyone else for that matter—manage the diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention? The answer to that question may be found in a seldom taught Parable of The Kingdom:
47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, 48 which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The point of the parable is to allow diversity that does not contradict the Scripture—to coexist in harmony until “the end of the age” and then “the angels will come forth and do the separating.” Until then we must allow for diversity within our unity, while we all remain committed to God’s Kingdom. Our commitment to World Evangelism and Discipleship requires that we remain committed in spite of our differences.
In the SBC, there are “gathered some of every kind.” We must learn to live together in harmony to advance God’s Kingdom in spite of our differences. Jesus told us His Kingdom would constitute diversity—“gathered some of every kind.” That could be the SBC’s greatest asset. Diversity and differences organically breed discontent and frustration. And that’s what we are currently experiencing. To remain committed to the SBC, you have to learn to endure and overcome the adversity that often accompanies diversity. But that’s a part of life in the Kingdom.
I understand Judge Pressler’s and Kyle Howard’s frustrations. I resigned from the Trustee Board at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary overwhelmed with my frustrations. But I remained committed to “the Southern Baptist Kingdom” and will continue to do so, as long as they remain committed to the King of Kings and not the Republican Party.
I shall forever be grateful to Frank Page, because when I felt wounded and rejected by the SBC for daring to take literally I Corinthians 14:2, and believe that the same God that Paul prayed to in a language that God understood, but not men—was yet moving in the Body of Christ—among men and sovereignly bestowing gifts to His body as He wills; it was Dr. Frank Page who publically addressed the issue in a redemptive, unifying manner:
“Page cited 1 Corinthians 14 as a passage which may be interpreted to permit a private prayer language, while noting that he does not personally have a private prayer language.” (Frank Page discusses SBC theological issues by James A. Smith Sr./Florida Baptist Witness)
“Churches must deal with charismatic issues and theology as a part of their own autonomous structure. I think that many charismatics function well within traditional Southern Baptist churches. In fact, we have several in our church. Some are more vocal and sometimes disruptive. Churches must deal with those kinds of attitudes on a case by case basis. Trustee bodies must do the same.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_McKissic#Position_on_speaking_in_tongues)
I was blessed by his statements and felt there was room in the SBC for a Baptist with my beliefs, based on Page’s words. Therefore, I remained in the SBC, and I’m glad I did. It was courageous and risky for Dr. Page to make the above statements at the time he made them, because they were viewed as supportive or sympathetic toward me and my position on the issue. Frank Page’s comments were in support of the principle of upholding unity in the midst of our diversity. His goal was not so much to support me personally. But I received his words as affirmation, because I was so deeply wounded. His words were like a balm in Gilead. A part from my relationship with God, it was Frank Page’s words that gave me the strength and identification to remain Southern Baptist. However, the ill treatment of Russell Moore has caused many African American Southern Baptists to ask the question: Should we remain Southern Baptists?
In 2015, Dr. David Platt led the IMB to change their policies that directly contradicted I Corinthians 14:2, and I greatly rejoice to see the SBC return to the pre-2005 policies that were aligned with the Word of God. I’m hopeful that under the leadership of Dr. Page unity can be restored to the SBC. Cessationism was/is not “A Hill on which to Die” in the SBC, and I’m grateful that Frank Page and David Platt would not let the SBC die on such a molehill. I was encouraged listening to David Platt preach a recorded sermon affirming all of the spiritual gifts and interpreting I Corinthians 14, similar, if not identical to how I interpret it. When Platt led the policy change at IMB, it was consistent with sermons he’d preached from his pulpit before ever being elected President of the IMB. Matt Chandler, an increasingly popular SBC pastor, is also on record affirming all the gifts of the Spirit, and an interpretation and application of the controversial tongues passages similar to the way I interpret them. Thank God that the SBC now allows diversity on the praying in tongues in private issue. Again, that was/is not “A Hill On Which [the SBC] Should Die.” The IMB 2015 policy reversal decision, inadvertently affirmed my August 2006 Chapel sermon at SWBTS that pleaded for freedom regarding the missionaries’ private prayers.
Judge Pressler feels wounded by the SBC just as I felt when the sermon I preached during Chapel at Southwestern was censured, simply because I echoed the theology of Jack McGorman, Matt Chandler, Jack Gray, Jack Taylor, David Platt and Joyce Rogers, Dr. Adrian Rogers’ widow (all Southern Baptists) on spiritual gifts and praying in tongues in private that the IMB later affirmed. Yet, I’ve had to—long time ago—let go of my wounded feelings for the Kingdom unity. I pray Judge Pressler can do the same. When you’re right, time has a way of vindicating you. In the meantime, in the Kingdom, you often have to learn to live with diverse views and people, who sometimes think and believe different from you on non-essential matters.
Oxtails are a delicacy in most African American homes in the South. Many White Southerners have never heard of or eaten oxtails. While serving as a guest speaker in my pulpit a few years ago, I invited Frank Page and several SBC Anglo and African-American Pastors to my home for dinner. We had a great time of fellowship. Mostly all attendees ate oxtails that night, except Frank Page. I forgive him for not eating oxtails with the Gentiles that night. J But what a joy it has been to watch his ability to serve as President of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, in the midst of as much division and disunity over various issues more so than I’ve ever seen in my almost 40-year history with the SBC, including during the days of the inerrancy battle. Dr. Page has a tough job. He needs our prayers.
WE MUST LEARN TO LIVE WITH DIVERSITY IN THE SBC, OR SHE WILL DIE A SLOW DEATH. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” We must all pray for Frank Page because somewhere in his job description, he’s required to bring all of those warring factions together. Wouldn’t it be great if one night in the Phoenix 2017 Annual Meeting be declared “Unity Night,” and all opposing factions drop their swords and come together to seek God’s face, crying out for unity.
Ironically, Russell Moore and I debated the biblical legitimacy of praying in tongues in private at the SBC Annual Meeting in June 2007. Moore argued cessationist theology. I argued continuationist theology. But, I believe that was the day we formed a certain level of friendship. While engaged in independent study at Southern Seminary, many months later following our debate, Russell Moore learned I was on campus in the library; he sought me out, extended a hearty welcome, ordered library staff to make all reference resources available to me, although I was not a Southern Student, and genuinely affirmed brotherhood and love toward me, although we hold diametrically opposing views on spiritual gifts. He allowed a spirit of love and unity to triumph over our theological differences. Russell Moore treated me as a brother in Christ and a fellow Southern Baptist, rather than with a John MacArthur spirit that says I represent “Strange Fire” and should be dis-fellowshipped. Thank God that Southern Baptists have rejected the MacArthur “Strange Fire” cessationist theology as a ruling policy theology position in SBC life. We need more of Russell Moore’s and Frank Page’s unity spirit (Ephesians 4:3) in the SBC, and our divisions would soon be healed.
I had no million dollars to threaten withholding from the SBC. Frank Page’s support for me was based on the principle of Christian unity and respect for the “Baptist Faith and Message 2000,” that I did not violate in my sermon that was censured at SWBTS in 2006. In many ways I’ve been marginalized in SBC life since then. But I remain committed for Kingdom purposes.
Republicanism, Cessationism, Confederate Flag Resolutions and Calvinism are not “Hills On Which to Die.” Biblical inerrancy, The Person, The Work, and Deity of Jesus Christ and the equality, dignity, and mutual respect of all races of mankind are “hills on which Baptists must be willing to die.” Frank Page and Russell Moore have proven to be Southern Baptists who are willing to die on those hills, and therein lay my hope for the future of the SBC.
My hope for the SBC can be summed up in the words of the great hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less, Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, [Southern Baptists should] stand; All other ground is sinking sand; All other ground is sinking sand.”
It is in this Hope—Christ—that ultimately the lions and the lambs will one day lie down together. Certainly Russell Moore and Jack Graham—because of their common hope in Christ—ought to be able to peacefully resolve this matter.
Finally, I close with [a quote from Chad Edgington written in response to my previous article at SBC Voices].
Chad Edgington says
“The ‘referendum’ on Dr. Moore is really a choice between the past and the future of the Southern Baptist Convention. No doubt there are wonderful things about our collective past, but it’s also full of shameful, hurtful things. In Dr. Moore’s leadership we see the fruit of corporate repentance, but in his opposition we see a hanging-on to old attitudes that aren’t helpful.”
Frank Page and Russell Moore are so desperately needed in the SBC, because they represent the future as opposed to the past. If the SBC—in spite of our many differences—continue to refuse to die on either of these mole hills that currently confront us—our future is bright and prosperous. We must continue to find a way to let unity and love triumph over our differences. I’m believing God that the Graham-Moore debate will soon heal. It is certainly not a hill on which to die.