I am thankful for the decision by Willy Rice not to have Ben Carson as a speaker at the 2015 Pastors’ Conference. I am also thankful for his blog post explaining his reasoning. There is much there to affirm.
He reminds us that Carson is a man who sincerely and convictionally follows his faith. I have no doubt that this is true, and I am thankful for Carson’s influential voice in the arena of national politics. We have a heritage of religious liberty in which we welcome people of all faiths and denominations to participate alongside us in our civic lives, and it is a joyful thing to have Ben Carson as a part of that process.
Pastor Rice also reminds us that Southern Baptists are “open to listening to persons from outside our denomination,” and certainly that is true. At least, I can say that it is true for myself. “Persons from outside our denomination” is a pretty broad category within which all of us, I think (hope?), make finer distinctions. There are people outside the Southern Baptist Convention whom we would welcome at our Pastors’ Conference and people outside the Southern Baptist Convention whom we would not welcome. I cannot, for example, imagine our having Pope Francis as a speaker at our Pastors’ Conference, although I am thankful for our tradition of co-belligerence with the Roman Catholic Church on many political and social issues. I would be entirely comfortable, on the other hand, with having someone from…say…Voice of the Martyrs to come and speak about Christian persecution around the world, whether that person were Southern Baptist or Assemblies of God. (NOTE: If you know a deep, dark secret about Voice of the Martyrs that I do not know, then I apologize for the errant example.) I recognize that my objections could be construed or extended by some to be an argument that none other than Southern Baptists should speak at our Pastors’ Conference. I am thankful that Pastor Rice has helped to clarify for us all that our conferences are not closed to all who are not in our SBC fellowship. His position on that question is mine as well, and his statements to that effect are helpful. I just do not think that they apply well to someone who regards Ellen White’s writings as divinely inspired.
Pastor Rice has affirmed Ronnie Floyd’s efforts toward visible unity and spiritual awakening. With Pastor Rice, I affirm these laudable goals and rejoice in the sacrificial effort that he has made, retracting this speaking invitation as he has done, to further those objectives. Rice’s actions put the good of our convention ahead of his personal feelings, and he deserves our approbation for such selflessness.
Pastor Rice has reminded us that we must not withdraw from the arena of politics. Certainly I agree. I am merely asking for us to engage in politics in a way that makes it perfectly clear that our theology drives our politics rather than our politics driving our theology. Also, social issues are neither the only items of our theology nor the most important items. If there are those in Southern Baptist life who “believe that we should avoid all political involvements,” then together with Pastor Rice, I must respectfully disagree with them as well. I have read most of what has been written on this particular subject, and I have encountered neither anyone who is making that argument nor anyone whose public activities can be construed to support that argument. I simply think that we face a very real danger of subjugating questions like “Who is God?” “Which writings are scripture?” and “What must I do to be saved?” to questions like “What is marriage?” Let us answer the question about marriage and let us answer it decisively, unwaveringly, doggedly, and resolutely. Let us not be deceived, however, into ranking it anywhere other than last in the list of four questions that I have given above.
But what would make any Christian rank that question higher? It is not that the marriage question is disputed while the others are not. They are all disputed. It is not that Southern Baptists are any more settled and united on the marriage question than we are on the others. We are as clearly complementarian as we are Trinitarian, both confessionally and anecdotally. It is simply that marriage is a current political issue while the others are not. This is my reservation about our relationship with politics—that I fear that we sometimes allow our political angst to shape our theological priorities. I feel great sympathy toward that political angst. I know that those who fall victim to this temptation are not bad people. I nevertheless believe that the mistake is a deadly one to make.
The best line of his post was this one: “…it is my sincere hope that all of us will join together to humble ourselves and cry out to God for genuine spiritual awakening.” Amen and amen. I’m with you, brother. Thank you for your laborious and conscientious work.
I’ve written this from Africa, having made it to Ziguinchor where such things are possible. I’ll not likely be present in the ensuing discussion.