I received a couple of communications this morning from people who were a little taken aback by the fact that Dr. Russell Moore was going to be interviewing two presidential candidates at the SEND North America Conference in Nashville the first week of August. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush will be interviewed.
- Here is the Religion News Service story about the event.
- Here is the ERLC press release about it.
- And here is Dr. Moore’s explanation of the event.
I have to admit that I was floored, especially after the rather public, painful, and powerful dust-up we had concerning the Pastors Conference this year. Dr. Ben Carson was invited to speak and Dr. Bart Barber wrote an article here questioning the wisdom of such an invitation. Why mix politics with a pastors’ event like that. A couple of weeks later, B21 joined the fray with a slightly more forceful post that said essentially the same thing. Within a few days (hours?) some sort of agreement had been reached which led to Dr. Carson withdrawing from his agreement to speak. It was no small controversy, with accusations of power-politics and intrigue on all sides.
So, I was shocked to hear that SEND NA was going to have a forum in which it interviewed political candidates. I will say a couple of things, as I start.
1. This is troubling to me. I have serious questions about how political candidate interviews fit into the purpose of a missions conference such as this one. I am very interested in politics. I posted on that just yesterday. I do not advocate in any way the idea that we should disengage or ignore the political process. However, I also believe that we ought to separate political involvement from our church mission. That’s why I was against Dr. Carson speaking at the PC. That is why this troubles me. If this was happening at the ERLC forum on politics on August 5th, it wouldn’t trouble me a bit. However, as I understand it, this going to happen at the SEND NA conference on the 4th.
2. As a public and unabashed fan of Dr. Moore, I’m in a bind here. I do not want to join in the chorus of those who I think often unfairly mischaracterize and falsely criticize him. We’ve seen recently some examples of how the truth can be perverted by blogs and bloggers. I want nothing to do with the anti-Moore, anti-ERLC crusades – which so often abandon truth and integrity in their pursuits. On the other hand, if we criticized the PC, and Willy Rice, when Dr. Carson was invited to speak, how can we not speak out and at least ask questions when something like this takes place? If we refuse to question those we support, we lose the right to criticize anyone else.
So, I am writing this post. I am trying to decide, as I write this, whether I will even open comments on this post. Some who hate Dr. Moore have abandoned integrity in the attempt to paint him and the ERLC in a negative light. On the other hand, this is a real issue, one Southern Baptists ought to be able to discuss. Compounding that is the fact that after I write this, I’m not going to be where I can moderate every comment. Just not sure what I’m gonna do. I guess by the time you read this, you’ll know my decision, right?
I’ll give you my conclusion right now:
While there are some issues about this that trouble me, there also seem to be some significant differences about this situation from the one at the Pastor’s Conference. So, for now, I’m going to wait and see. Having never been to a SEND conference, and not knowing what kind of format this will take place in, I’m just going to reserve judgment for the time being until all the facts are in.
1. It is undeniably odd that after we just had a rather forceful brouhaha about inviting a presidential candidate to a pastors conference (who wasn’t even a declared candidate when he was invited – though he is now and was assumed to be one then) we would now have two candidates speak at our biggest missions conference. It shocked me. Frankly, when I was told about this, I looked carefully to see if the article came from some kind of “Onion” news service.
2. The fact is, I don’t really know much about SEND conferences. This is my first one. I had a strong sense (though I was not the author of any of the articles related to it) that a presidential candidate was inappropriate for a pastors conference of the SBC. Is the same true for SEND? Well, I guess I’ll let you know on August 5th, after I attend one.
3. It seems that this is part of a scheduled political forum that was decided by the conference leaders to be part of the conference. Moore explains this in his letter linked to above.
4. The most significant thing here is that there were several candidates invited to be part of this. Even the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, was invited. Evidently, they invited candidates polling at least 10% in national polls. Bush and Rubio were the ones who said yes. Clinton declined to come. I’m not sure if Trump said no, or if they made the invites before he got in, or if they just had the good sense not to invite him. But the key here is that it was not just one candidate who was invited, but several. SEND is not giving one candidate preferential treatment, but is providing a broader forum.
5. There is nothing wrong, in my mind, with having a political forum at a denominational meeting. Political issues affect denominational life. We do not live in a religious vacuum and that which goes on in Washington or the statehouse affects what happens in Alpharetta, Richmond, Nashville, and your local church. So, we ought not, in my mind, become absolute separatists. However there are a couple of safeguards that we ought to keep in place.
- The political forum needs to take place in an appropriate context.
- When we are worshiping and giving spiritual exhortation (such as the pastors’ conference), the political seems less appropriate.
- Denominational leaders need not be the power-brokers who decide who gets access to the convention and who does not. Giving one candidate preferential treatment is different than inviting several.
- Candidates should be treated respectfully and objectively, asked questions that probe concerning the issues that we care about.
Maybe I’ll come up with some other thoughts in the discussion. I’m on grandpa duty for a bit, so I’ve got to run and I want to post this. For now, comments are open. If this becomes vitriolic, they will close. My attitude right now is wait-and-see. I’m a little nervous about the whole thing, but Dr. Moore’s explanation makes a lot of sense. There seem to be some reali differences between this and the events of the pastors conference.
I will be there and be blogging, so I’ll let you know more on August 4.