Nearly 35 years ago, the world nearly came to an end because Matthew Broderick messed around with his 9-inch floppy disks and played a game of “Global Thermonuclear War” on a government super-computer named Joshua. Fortunately, Joshua was designed to explore all the possible scenarios and learn from its calculations. At the climax of the movie, Joshua realizes something very important. Every single option in Global Thermonuclear War ends with unacceptable losses for everyone and no one wins. Everything goes dark, then the screen pops on with these words.
The only winning move is not to play.
The Southern Baptist Convention is currently embroiled in its own “War Games” and the hope of avoiding global thermonuclear war seems to be fading day by day. I believe what Joshua came to understand. If we fight this battle as a denomination, if we take the Jack Graham vs. Russell Moore conflict to the mattresses there will be no winners.
The only winning move in the current SBC conflict is for nobody to win.
I am not dispassionate in this conflict – it is no secret where my sympathies lie. I believe one side better represents the truth and steers a better course for the future of the SBC. If this thing comes to a head there will not be a moment’s hesitation in me as to which side I will be on.
But if my side “wins” it will be a loss for the SBC. Those churches and their pastors that are upset at Moore’s critique of Trump supporters and his other positions on political issues represent a significant segment of the SBC. Many have announced their willingness to withhold CP giving because of their disdain for Dr. Moore. Can we gather a voting majority at the SBC and “win” a showdown over the ERLC and Dr. Moore’s future? Maybe. I think we would but it’s a pointless argument. We won’t know until the showdown comes and when it does we all lose. More specifically, the CP loses.
Is it worth it to win this war if the CP loses in the process?
The anti-Russell Moore contingent needs to make this same calculation. Forcing Dr. Moore to resign may give a moment of joy, a fleeting sense of victory and vindication. But the damage to the denomination will be devastating. Total. Perhaps irreversible.
Will Moore supporters do what they have criticized Jack Graham for doing? Will we withhold our CP dollars in response to such a thing? I believe it goes beyond that. If Moore is forced out it may well be seen as a symbol that the SBC is establishing one political viewpoint as orthodox and is effectively showing the door to those who do not walk in lock step. Minority churches would likely break ties in droves. Many younger pastors and churches would begin to bleed from the convention. I can envision things reaching the point of a split. The detritus of a forced Moore termination would be thermonuclear.
My intent is not to argue whether Moore supporters or Moore detractors are a larger group or can escrow larger amounts of CP money. My point is simple: when we start down the road the biggest loser is the CP and the SBC, whether Dr. Moore keeps his job or not.
The only solution is to find a path of grace and unity, to apply biblical principles to a difficult situation and seek godly reconciliation. According to Ephesians, Jesus died not only to save sinners by grace but to break down walls and to make the two one. Paul spoke of Jews and Gentiles in that epistle, but surely those principles can apply to Jack Graham and Russell Moore.
They must. They absolutely must.
The only winning move here is for grace to overwhelm anger and wash away grudges and for us to chart a new course of cooperation. Russell Moore cannot win. Jack Graham cannot win. If anyone wins, we all lose. We all have to humble ourselves and be willing to give a little.
I would make the following specific suggestions.
1. We need an understanding on the ERLC’s role in political issues.
The ERLC has two purposes and they sometimes conflict. The ERLC speaks FOR Southern Baptists on religious liberty and on moral issues. They also speak TO Southern Baptists on these issues, calling us to live out our faith in the public arena.
Some act as if Moore should take public opinion polls among Southern Baptists and limit himself to speaking on those issues where a majority in the SBC agree. That is not his job. He is to speak for us on some issues and to us on others. We do not determine right and wrong by majority polls, but by God’s word.
But there has developed a consensus that the political discussion in 2016 crossed lines. Dr. Moore not only addressed issues but he addressed candidates and he did so in a way that offended many Southern Baptists. I agreed with what he said, but even Dr. Moore has admitted he went too far in the way he spoke his mind.
Perhaps, with the help of Dr. Page and others, the two sides in this conflict can come to a semi-formal agreement about how the ERLC will address political issues in the future. It would allow the ERLC president and staff to address spiritual, moral, and ethical issues while avoiding some of the problems of the last election cycle.
- Should the ERLC and its president address specific candidates or limit itself to issues?
- The president of the ERLC should be careful in his public statements to affirm that political opinions differ among Christians and we should not question the sincerity of believers because of political disagreements.
2. You can’t muzzle Moore.
Dr. Russell Moore is a powerful and prophetic voice who speaks to a generation of Christians – and annoys many in the process. The solution to this issue, whatever it is, must allow Moore to continue to be who he is and do what he does.
Any solution that attempts to muffle Moore’s voice will not work. Perhaps Moore can be more gracious toward critics but he is responsible to God’s word and the truth not to public opinion polls of Southern Baptists.
Muzzling the man is not a solution. Giving some structure in which he speaks his mind and heart is one thing. Telling him what to say is something else.
3. We must agree to agree about our disagreements.
I hate cliches and “agree to disagree” is a common one. But it is the nature of a cooperative denomination like the SBC. We are old and young, Calvinist and non-Calvinist, including Traditionalists, traditional and contemporary, large and small. And right now, one of our most severe disagreements is political. I don’t believe any of our leaders are actually racist, but we have significant differences about how to approach racial reconciliation. We disagree about immigration, about refugees, about dealing with Muslims and religious freedom. Most of all about whether Donald Trump is a qualified leader.
Are we going to seek to enforce conformity on such issues? Are we going to make either the Moore position or the old-line culture warrior stances a point of fellowship in the SBC?
The SBC only works if Calvinists and non-Calvinist, old and young, traditional and contemporary, big and small, and political views of various stripes operate by their convictions in their churches, advocate their positions as they see fit, accept one another as brothers and sisters within the boundaries of the BF&M, and cooperate to support missions.
The SBC dies a little every time we enforce conformity on a tertiary issue.
4. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
“But Russell Moore said terrible things…”
“But Jack Graham is holding missionaries hostage…”
If I could go back to the fall of 2015, when the GOP primaries were just heating up, I would do a couple of things differently. I wouldn’t change my convictions or what I said. But I would do two things.
- I would speak more clearly to differentiate my views about varieties of Trump supporters.
- I would affirm more clearly that political opinion is not a matter of biblical orthodoxy but of personal preference. We can disagree politically – even sharply – and maintain fellowship.
I said these things in my posts, but in discussions these truths often got lost.
I took a fair amount of abuse during the election. As a vocal NeverTrumper I was called names and accused of things I think were unfair. People said and did things that hurt me. Angered me.
And we cannot go back and undo any of it. Not a word.
So now, I have a choice and so do you. We can put the 2016 election under the grace of God and seek to move forward or we can continue to prosecute one another and enforce our grudges until we burn down the entire house and the 2020 election gives us an opportunity to repeat our mistakes.
Grace is better.
5. Remember, the world is watching.
I had a call yesterday from a reporter who had read several articles here at SBC Voices. The Russell Moore/Jack Graham brouhaha is national news. The world is watching,
Why not show them real Christianity in action?
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-Control. Loving our enemies. Forgiveness and forbearance. Grace. Returning good for evil.
These are not signs of weakness or a jelly-legged lack of conviction. They are godly. Christlike. They are weapons of warfare that have the power of God to tear down the strongholds of the enemy.
The world is watching Dr. Page and Dr. Moore and Jack Graham and the rest of us. How about we show them godly men walking in the fullness of the Spirit and bringing glory to God. Too often the world has watched us demonstrate the power of our flesh. Maybe it is time we showed them the power of God’s Spirit.
The only way we win is if we all lose…just a little.
It’s simple Christianity. It’s walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh. It’s putting the Kingdom of God ahead of my own kingdom.
A Bible Story to Ponder
Remember when Joshua (the biblical man, not the mythical computer) was wandering near Jericho and came upon the strange figure in Joshua 5? He asked the man whether he was on his side or on his enemies side.
“Are you for us or for our adversaries?” (Are you on Russell Moore’s side or Jack Graham’s?)
The man replied, in verse 14.
“Neither; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” (the preacher’s favorite line – I’m not here to take sides but to take charge)
Joshua fell on his face in submission.
Do you need me to drive home the point of application or can you figure it out on your own?