On Wednesday, I read an article by Brad Reynolds on the Christian Index website called Bobby Baptist and the ERLC. Dr. Reynolds begins the article by reminding his readers of the well-known sermon, “A Baptist and his Bible,” preached by Dr. Jerry Vines. In that sermon Dr. Vines referred to a fictional Southern Baptist named Billy Baptist. Reynolds plays off of Dr. Vines’ Billy Baptist and introduces his readers to Billy’s younger brother Bobby Baptist. Bobby is in Reynolds’ words, “a twenty-first century hypothetical typical member of a Southern Baptist rural church.”
Upon reading the article, I couldn’t help but remember the tongue (or keyboard?) lashing I received several weeks ago for creating a fictional pastor named Pastor Billy Bob. In doing so, it was not my intention to disparage anyone. I was simply doing exactly what Vines did in his sermon and what Reynolds does in his article. I created a fictional character to make my point. But as we know, those who look for offense will surely find it.
The point that Reynolds makes in his article is that Russell Moore and other SBC leaders are simply out of touch with rank and file Southern Baptists. Bobby Baptist has two primary concerns: abortion and religious liberty (by which Reynolds really means Christian liberty). Bobby Baptist is not concerned about what it means to be an evangelical, the importance of sexual immorality, or racial divisiveness. And because Bobby Baptist is not concerned about these things, neither should Russell Moore concern himself with them, argues Reynolds.
Well, I am Pastor Billy Bob, and I disagree with Bobby Baptist. I agree that Christians should be concerned about abortion. I even agree that such concerns should inform the way we vote. I agree with Bobby Baptist that religious liberty is an important issue of our day. Unlike Bobby though, I believe true religious liberty includes the freedom of Muslims to build a mosque. I strongly disagree with Bobby when he says that we should not be concerned about sexual immorality and racial divisiveness.
Bobby seems to argue that we cannot possibly focus our attention on more than one or two issues at a time. Therefore, we must focus all of our attention on opposing abortion. I completely reject that position. Just as Russell Moore and the ERLC under his direction have done, we must seek an end to abortion. But we must also stand against sexual immorality. We must seek to bridge the racial divide that plagues our nation. And we should defend religious liberty for all people of all religions.
I can’t speak for Russell Moore, but I’m not surprised that Bobby Baptist exists. In fact, if he didn’t live in Georgia, I’d think that he is a member of my church. The problem is not that I am so out of touch that I don’t even realize that Bobby Baptist exists. The issue is that I disagree with him.
Dr. Reynolds writes, “Perhaps this hypothetical character who represents real, live Southern Baptists will help Southern Baptist leadership understand the outcry over Dr. Moore. Not in an effort to remove him, but in an effort to ask him to either represent us or remove himself for we do not desire to pay someone who doesn’t represent us. That representation would begin by an admission that abortion, Supreme Court justices, and the judicial system is rightly our main focus.”
With all due respect to Dr. Reynolds, it’s not just that Dr. Moore disagrees with this position, but I disagree as well. No one is saying that abortion should not be a main focus of the ERLC. Certainly it should. But many of us, not just Dr. Moore, are saying that it should not be the only focus of the ERLC. Many of us believe that the ERLC can seek racial reconciliation and fight against abortion at the same time. Many of us believe that the ERLC can support justice appointments like Judge Gorsuch while also standing against sexual immorality in all its forms. Many of us believe that the 10 policy priorities of the ERLC for 2017 are exactly where our focus should be.
So how should we move forward? Should Pastor Billy Bob or Bobby Baptist get his way? Dr. Reynolds seems to think that he should get his way and the rest of us can either like it or lump it. I disagree. Dr. Moore’s employment as President of the ERLC obviously presents a binary choice. Either Dr. Moore stays or he goes. But it doesn’t have to be Pastor Billy Bob’s way or Bobby Baptist’s way. Bobby Baptist does not need to agree with every position Dr. Moore takes on every issue to recognize and celebrate the good done by Dr. Moore and the ERLC. I do not need to agree with Bobby Baptist on every issue to want to continue working together for the sake of the gospel. Sometimes things will go my way. Sometimes things will go Bobby’s way. And sometimes neither of us will be happy! But that’s okay.
I do not always agree with every decision made by every entity affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. And when I disagree, I do not demand that leaders conform to my viewpoint or resign. Instead, I try to advocate for my position in hopes of seeing positive change in the direction that I think things should do. The same is true in the church I pastor. Not everything at the church I pastor happens exactly as I would prefer. But for the sake of unity within the body and love for God’s flock, I do not demand my own way.
The Southern Baptist Convention, despite our flaws, is a wonderful tool that God has used for His glory since 1845. I believe that our best days could still be ahead of us. But if that is going to be true, we will all need to be willing to bear with one another in love even when we disagree. A group of believers as diverse as our convention will disagree about things. But even in the midst of disagreement, we can still cooperate together in this one sacred effort of seeing the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ advance even to the ends of the earth.