Ted Cruz has announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States of America. And thus has begun both the 2016 campaign and the quadrennial Southern Baptist navigation of it.
The 2012 election was a traumatic one for me. Democrats ran the incumbent president with the worst record on religious-liberty issues in the history of the country. Republicans ran not an elephant but a RINO. This I might have tolerated, but for the fact that we also watched as Christian organizations willfully subjugated what they believed about Heaven-and-Hell issues to serve what they believed about Republican-or-Democrat issues. These were organizations that I had respected, and I felt betrayed by their actions.
The problem is not that Southern Baptists were ready to vote for Mitt Romney. I was ready to vote for Mitt Romney, too. The problem is that there were too many people ready to change what they said about Mormonism just to get their guy into the White House. There was what we said about Mormonism BEFORE the Romney campaign, and then there was what we said about Mormonism DURING the Romney campaign. They weren’t the same thing.
Please, please, please, by all that is holy, let’s not repeat that in 2016.
But I’m already a little worried. I’m worried because one of the leading candidates for the 2016 race, although he is not a member of a full-fledged cult group like the Mormons, is a Seventh-Day Adventist. So, what have we said about Seventh-Day Adventism BEFORE the 2016 presidential campaign? The Interfaith Witness department of the North American Mission Board has said that “…the SDA can be correctly regarded as a Christian sect [rather than church] because it has a number of distinctive doctrines not in accord with the mainstream of historic Christian faith.” The article further notes the Seventh-Day Adventist belief that “those Christians who worship on Sunday are in error and, in the last days, will bear the ‘mark of the beast,’ which [Adventists] consider to be Sunday worship.”
Adventists also believe that Jesus has been engaged since 1844 in an endeavor called “investigative judgment” by which Christ (a) is presently examining the sleeping dead (Adventists exclusively endorse “soul sleep” as their pareschatological viewpoint and annihilationism as their view of the last judgment) to see whether they will be admitted into Heaven and (b) is examining living Christians to determine whether they are keeping Christ’s commandments sufficiently to be admitted into Heaven. Because of doctrines like this, NAMB tells us, “SDA teaching often implies that certain outward acts of righteousness are necessary to maintain one’s assurance of salvation, especially observance of the seventh-day sabbath.” Yes, yes, some of my readers will think that anyone any less Calvinistic than John Gill believes in “works-salvation,” but if the SDA’s “investigative judgment” and their emphasis upon the decalogue’s role in that judgment do not qualify for that moniker, I’m not sure it has meaning.
Adventists, like Mormons and Roman Catholics, put the writings of their leaders on par with the scriptural testimony of Jesus and the Apostles. The SDA’s “28 Fundamental Beliefs” declare that “As the Lord’s messenger, [Ellen G. White’s] writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction.”
And so, Southern Baptists have classified Seventh-Day Adventists not as a church but as a sect. We have stopped short of anathematizing them, but we have identified aspects of their beliefs that are sub-Christian and harmful. Will we still say the same thing about Seventh-Day Adventists?
With Southern Baptists having reached these (well-founded) conclusions about Seventh-Day Adventists, it is not surprising that we have not hired Seventh-Day Adventists as heads of our entities. It is not surprising that we have not invited Seventh-Day Adventists to preach our Annual Convention Sermons. It is not surprising that we have not invited Seventh-Day Adventists to address our Pastors’ Conferences.
Until now, that is.
Seventh-Day Adventist Dr. Ben Carson has been endorsed by invited to speak at the 2015 SBC Pastors’ Conference. Let’s face it: He’s being invited because he’s a popular presidential candidate. After all, if we simply wanted to hear from courageous voices taking a stand for Jesus today, why not Southern Baptists Barronelle Stutzman or Kelvin Cochran?
If I were Ted Cruz (Southern Baptist, member of FBC Houston, TX), I’d be jumping-up-and-down mad. If I were Mike Huckabee (Southern Baptist, former President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention), I’d write a protest song for the Little Rockers and play it on National TV. The Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference has passed over Southern Baptist presidential candidates and potential candidates and has yielded the convention pulpit to a Seventh-Day Adventist therewith to court the electorate.
The problem here is (a) we take time when we should be talking about theological issues to talk about political issues instead, and (b) we compromise on our theological beliefs in order to remove discomfort we otherwise would feel for promoting the political agenda during our meeting. Inviting Ben Carson is just not the right thing to do.
…let’s do this: Let’s let the politicians make their cases independently of our meetings. Let’s focus the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting on prayer and spiritual awakening, as President Ronnie Floyd has so wonderfully asked us to do. Let’s extend our apologies to Dr. Ben Carson and hear Kelvin Cochran in his place. If we need a political rally, let’s have one, separate from our Annual Meeting, and let’s invite ALL of the candidates to come and to make their promises. Let’s consider strongly that we might vote for Dr. Ben Carson (I’ve got his book—a signed copy, no less!—and would vote for him fifty times before I’d vote for Jeb Bush), but let us not change ONE IOTA what we say about and how we relate to Seventh-Day Adventists. Let us make it a believable fiction, at the very least, that what we say about God means more to us than what we say about politics.
This post has been changed since it was first released in order to fix two typographical errors and to add a missing hyperlink to the North American Mission Board’s statement of Seventh-Day Adventism.