I believe that the 2020 presidential election season has the potential to be one of the final nails in the coffin of the SBC. If we continue on our current course we may well see this as the point at which the die was cast and our fate was sealed. (Let me see if I can work another cliche or two in there).
I hope the reader doesn’t misunderstand my use of the concept of Luther’s 95 theses. I realize, first of all, that my political meanderings do not compare in any way to the Reformation inducing insights of Dr. Luther. I was gathering a list of insights about politics and thought of his long list. I also realize that many today question whether he actually nailed them to the door in Wittenburg. I am nailing these here virtually, so it is more similar perhaps, in that sense.
I am currently up to about 28 theses, but fearing the dreaded TL;DR, I thought I’d make this a series of at least 3 posts. Here are theses 1-10. There is little actual order here – more in these first few than in subsequent posts.
1. The intersection of biblical morality and politics is always a minefield and it is usually biblical morality that suffers in the political realm.
A controversial book by Ed Dobson and Cal Thomas, “Blinded by Might,” made this point. Politics is about gaining and maintaining power, generally by whatever means necessary. Christianity is about proclaiming gospel truth, regardless of the consequences. When Christians enter the political realm we are often called on to compromise our faith and the truth we believe in the pursuit of power. The compromise necessary to win in politics is anathema to gospel truth.
Christians and the church, historically, have been more likely to mold to the political way than politics has been to bend to the way of Christ. It is a minefield and we must always walk carefully, with eyes wide open, when we wander into the political world.
2. In the SBC, we botched the 2016 election season badly, and if we do not do better in 2020, it may fracture us permanently.
Remember when we were arguing over whether Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz should be the nominee? We had some good arguments then, but the field didn’t narrow and the 35% Donald Trump continued to receive became a plurality that eventually made him the presumptive nominee. We were left with a problem. There were a few Trump enthusiasts, even during the primaries, but they were rare among the committed evangelicals. There was also a significant number of us so offended by Trump’s belligerence, immorality, and crass verbiage that we declared ourselves “NeverTrumpers.” A significant number of people became “TIBTHers” (a phrase I just coined). “Trump is better than Hillary.” I actually believe that – the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency was horrific in my mind, but I still could not get past my convictions that Trump was unfit for office.
I was pretty vocal. As I look back on 2016, I stand by the things I said in my posts here and elsewhere. However, in conversations, in comments, when emotions rose in engagements, I said things more harshly than I should have (and at times, I think things I said were interpreted wrongly).
We, as a convention, did not handle the 2016 election well. Trump partisans treated NeverTrumpers like liberal antichrists. NeverTrumpers treated Trump voters as gospel-compromisers and we often failed to distinguish carefully the TIBTHers from the true Trumpers (Jeffress, Falwell, Graham, etc). Rifts formed in the SBC that still haven’t healed. The recent formation of the so-called Conservative Baptist Network is clearly focused largely on opposing those Baptists who do not give full support to Trump and the GOP.
We simply have to do better in the 2020 election at showing respect for one another in spite of political differences, at realizing that Christian brothers and sisters can be faithful to Christ and to the word of God and have significant differences on political issues, that proclaiming Christ and the gospel is more important than promoting political parties or candidates, and that assigning motives and assuming the worst about political opponents are not godly responses.
3. Voting is a matter of Christian liberty and that liberty must be respected.
I believe it is reasonable for me to state my views and try to convince you that yours are wrong, but in the end, I have to respect your right to vote your convictions and you should respect my right to vote mine.
Voting is a matter of taking a wide range of issues – moral, economic, military, educational, etc – and making a decision about a candidate. Since I watched Francis Schaeffer’s series, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race” during my seminary years, I’ve eliminated any candidate who believed that abortion was acceptable. I seek a pro-life candidate whose views most closely align with mine. That’s how I do it, but not all Christians use the same rubric. I cannot impose my voting system on anyone else.
That is not to say we can vote as we please. Romans 14 says that each of us has a Lord who died to save us and we give account to him. I do not have to account to you for my voting choices and you do not have to account to me.
4. Judging and condemning others for their votes is sinful.
I have no right to judge someone who votes for Donald Trump. You have no right to judge someone who refuses to vote for Donald Trump. Judging Christians based on party affiliation is not right.
Of course, we can examine the actions, attitudes, and words of people and identify false teachings, hypocrisy, and subversion of the gospel to politics. We can examine fruit and test sound doctrine. But we must be careful about passing judgment, questioning Christian commitment, and condemning others because their votes differ from ours.
We would like the political realm to painted in black and white but its hews are gray.
5. Abortion is a key moral issue.
The idea that it is okay to enter a mother’s womb and kill the baby inside it is morally repugnant. As best I know, I’ve never voted for a candidate who supported abortion. In Cedar Rapids, my congressman was a “pro-choice” Republican. He got elected and reelected without my vote. I do not care about his party – I will not vote for anyone who thinks killing a baby in its mother’s womb is morally acceptable.
6. Abortion is not the only moral issue.
This is where White evangelicals and Black evangelicals (and other minorities) often diverge. To many in the White evangelical world, abortion is pretty much the only moral issue that matters. Even the anti-social justice crowd is willing to take strong stands against abortion. Racism is a real issue in America that has real effects on millions of people. Abuse in whatever form – verbal, physical, and sexual – is a real issue that has devastated real lives. Abortion is a great evil but it is not the only evil in America.
I have refused to vote for my current congressman even though he is strongly pro-life. He has made racist, or racially insensitive, statements and has horrified me with some of his positions. There are other issues beyond abortion. I wouldn’t vote for Jim Leach because of his abortion stance and won’t vote for Steve King for a number of reasons.
7. We should not be surprised that white evangelicals and minorities weight certain issues differently. (This also extends to abuse victims, etc,)
In my circles, it is abortion, abortion, abortion! Minority Christians, who love Jesus and honor God’s word, give a much higher value to racism in their voting calculations (duh?).
Here’s how it might go. A white evangelical looks at the GOP platform and sees its pro-life language, sees that Trump’s SCOTUS appointments were apparently pro-life, and his calculations end there, because abortion is the only moral issue that matters. He (or she) simply cannot understand how others give an equal or near-equal weight to racism or abuse when babies are being killed! A Black evangelical pastor may also be passionately opposed to abortion but sees it as one of several issues. He has been pulled over for DWB several times in his life, pastors people who have been arrested and even convicted unjustly, and has firsthand experience with police brutality. These issues drive him to look beyond just the abortion issue. A victim of sexual abuse may look at Trump’s treatment of women (c’mon, Trumpers, even you have to admit that is NOT his strong point!) and includes that in the calculation.
In other words, people with different life-experiences make different choices based on their different experiences.
It is understandable that with their life experiences, abortion is not the only issue certain minority communities factor into their voting. One has to wonder why some of us are so passionate about making it the only justice issue that we should consider.
8. If the church wants to broaden its racial reach it needs to soften its partisan passion.
Black Evangelicals and other minorities are not offended by pro-life stands or by upholding the biblical family (one man/one woman). They will amen those stands. When we don our MAGA hats and start making support of the GOP and Trump an article of faith, they recoil. It is GOP partisanship on our part (and, to be fair, Democratic partisanship on the part of some minorities) that creates division among biblical Christians.
You will almost never hear me preach about political issues. I preach expositionally and I address issues such as abortion, racism, abuse, and other issues as they fit the text. I did not preach against Clinton or Obama, I didn’t preach for Reagan or either Bush – and I do not preach anti-Trump messages. The pulpit is for God’s word, not partisan politics. The more we push parties and political personalities to the fore, the more divided we will be.
9. The more we make the SBC about gospel issues, the better off we will be. The more we push politics, the more divided we will be.
We need to be about preaching Christ crucified and taking the Gospel to the world. Yes, there are moral and political issues we cannot avoid. These issues need to be addressed. But the more we follow certain voices and make GOP loyalty and Trumpism a point of fellowship, the more divided we will be, the whiter we will be, the closer to future oblivion we will be.
Here is a fact, friends. In 30 years or so, the USA will be majority-minority. There will be more of them than of us (sorry – I stated that offensively on purpose). If we do not reach out to minorities, if we do not sacrifice our culture for the gospel, if we push GOP politics over gospel unity, we will regret it. I’ll be pushing up daisies by then, but you young whippersnappers will see the SBC become a small insignificant denomination.
10. Sound biblical teaching, gospel passion, and a commitment to Christ’s Body is our fix here.
I am amazed at times when I see memes being forwarded by Christians on Facebook, memes that assert totally unbiblical things as biblical. The basic biblical and theological ignorance in many churches today is stunning and is a real issue.
We need churches that preach God’s word carefully so that when people see politicians and people promoting politicians who twist God’s word they realize they are being deceived. We need people who are so committed to the gospel that they care more about the advance of Christ’s kingdom than the victory or defeat of a candidate in November. We need people who love Christ and the Body of Christ enough to “bear with one another in love” and accept the lordship of Christ over others without trying to assert their own.
We can have an interest and concern about politics, but our churches and our denomination need to be passionate about the things of Christ, not about politics. When we conflate and confuse the two, the church suffers.