Dr. Albert Mohler will have an honored place in SBC history for people like me who lived through the Conservative Resurgence and were pleased to see the tide of our denomination’s history turn. I appreciate what he did to restore confessionalism and a more biblical theology at Southern, even if I do not share many of his theological distinctives.
I fear his legacy may be tarnished by his recent turn toward a focus on strident political partisanship. Once a noble statesman and a force of unity among us, he is now in danger of being remembered as a divisive political opportunist whose focus on the Bible and theology were blunted by a passion for party politics.
He made disturbing and controversial comments at Family Research Council’s conference called the “Pray Vote Stand Summit” in Atlanta, Georgia last week. During a long address, he made this statement.
“We have a responsibility to make certain that Christians understand the stewardship of the vote, which means the discipleship of the vote, which means the urgency of the vote, the treasure of the vote. And they need to understand that insofar as they do not vote, or they vote wrongly, they are unfaithful because the vote is a powerful stewardship.”
We must vote right. If we do not vote right, we are not only wrong but “unfaithful” to God. Boiled down, we sin against God. We offend God by not voting as Mohler wants us to vote.
This statement offended me, as it did many others. What gives Al Mohler the right to decide whether my vote pleases God? Isn’t how I vote an act of MY conscience under Christ’s lordship? Has Dr. Mohler now assumed the role of the Holy Spirit for us all? Yes, those are harsh words, but Dr. Mohler’s partisan statements demand a strong response.
Dr. Mohler defined issues of life and sexuality as the focus of “right” voting. We must vote against abortion. We must vote against gay marriage. We must vote against transgenderism and defend the biblical view on such issues. We are “at war,” he claimed. These are the issues that matter. Vote for the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-traditional family candidate regardless of anything else. On political matters, Dr. Mohler speaks for God.
I agree with Dr. Mohler’s views on these issues and they are key to my voting. I made a commitment over 40 years ago that anyone who thought it was okay to kill a baby in its mother’s womb would not get my vote and no one has. I support the marriage standard of the Bible – one man, one woman, one lifetime. What I do not support is Dr. Mohler’s pontifical stance on voting. It is flawed in several ways. Permit the following points.
1. Voting is an act of conscience and we answer only to God for our votes.
When I vote (or choose not to do so) I am acting under the Lordship of Christ. I am required to do what glorifies God and serves my fellow man and woman. I will answer to God for every vote I cast. In this, I agree with Dr. Mohler’s premise. I do not get to “vote as I please,” but must seek to glorify God and advance kingdom interests.
Dr. Mohler errs by imposing his views as a mandate for everyone, ignoring the teachings of Romans 14-15. That passage describes a series of issues of conscience in which one believer is convicted about his diet, observing the Sabbath, or such, while another has competing convictions. Paul reminds us that we are to honor God and allow others to live under the Lordship of Christ even if their convictions differ. Jesus died to be our Lord and no one else has the right to put himself in the place of God and lord it over others on issues of conscience. On such issues, we have freedom and must show charity. Mohler’s statement failed in this.
My brother in Christ Dwight McKissic loves Jesus, the Bible, and America (in that order). In many elections, I think we have voted the same but in some, we have voted differently. Our experiences and perspectives diverge. He can vote one way and be faithful to God while I vote another and am also faithful. I reference him because he spoke out forcefully against Mohler’s comments on Twitter.
Dr. Mohler essentially attacked faithful Christians who see politics through different eyes, especially in the African American community. He seemed to be influenced by Christian Nationalism to a worrisome degree. Mohler should be using his position and status to be building bridges and confronting racism, not offending our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Paul said this in Romans 10:9-10.
Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer?
Dr. Mohler has no right to act as Lord over my conscience or anyone else’s. We have a Bible and a Holy Spirit. Those roles are taken. Baptists have long held to distinctives like soul competency and the priesthood of believers. We reject the idea of a moral pope issuing bulls to guide our votes.
Dr. Mohler’s pronouncements showed profound disrespect for the consciences of believers and the distinctive historical beliefs of Baptists. Our leaders do not substitute themselves for the Holy Spirit and command us on how to vote.
2. Mohler only focuses on a few issues while many others matter.
I agree with Dr. Mohler on the issue of abortion, and marriage, but these are not the only issues we must consider.
Having been raised in predominantly white (okay, let’s be real – overwhelming white) churches, it was an eye-opener when I talked politics with Black pastors. They were pro-life and we found common ground on key issues. They did not agree that abortion negated the importance of all other issues. They had seen racism and economic injustice first-hand and were not willing to ignore these issues to make abortion the ONLY political issue worth considering in the ballot box. They believed that a consistent pro-life ethic required us to deal with racism, xenophobia, and other such issues of human worth.
This is the crux of evangelicalism’s political divide today. It isn’t liberalism vs. conservatism as it is often painted, but “issues-ism.” What issues matter? I am passionately pro-life but I will not make abortion the sine qua non of Christian voting. There are other issues that matter. Some want us to only consider the culture warrior issues of abortion, gay marriage, etc, while others say those should be issues, but not the only issues.
When I moved to western Iowa, my congressman impressed me in many ways. I met with him; he was pro-life, pro-family, a solid vote for the things I cared about. Then, as the years passed, he began to make increasingly racist comments about immigrants and I finally stopped voting for him – just left that one blank on the ballot. Mohler would call me unfaithful but I voted my conscience before God. I would not vote for a pro-life racist. Fortunately, the district got tired of his radical views and he was defeated in a primary.
Economic issues matter (not just cutting taxes)! Read the Old Testament prophets. Yes, they confronted immorality, but they devoted scroll upon scroll to issues like the oppression of the poor and injustice in government. Anyone who says that injustice isn’t a biblical issue needs to peruse the prophets.
Racism matters. The New Testament tells of a Jewish church becoming Gentile and all the issues that brought. Church History reveals that racism and xenophobia have been besetting sins of the church since its earliest days.
Abuse of power to hurt others is a biblical issue. It matters.
Could this be why some insist that issues like abortion and homosexuality are the only ones that matter? They are not the only issues that matter to God, according to Scripture. He cares about racism, about how we treat sojourners (immigrants), about how we treat the poor and needy, about abuse, about economic issues and injustice. Could it be that people choose issues like abortion and homosexuality because they are wedge issues that gain votes for “our” side over “their” side? Have we become that partisan? Do we ignore parts of the Bible to only see what we want?
Giving abortion status as THE issue allows us to ignore ugly things and unbiblical views on “our” side. We can ignore Christian Nationalism or racism or xenophobia or oppression or injustice or anything else because…ABORTION!
It appears Dr. Mohler has embraced political partisanship in an unhealthy way.
3. The Church never wins when it marches under a political banner.
I recently taught a Church History class. I am no expert, but one clear lesson emerged. The marriage of church and state ends poorly for the church. From Constantine’s conversion to the ruling Church of the Middle Ages to the Magisterial Reformers – politics and religion proved a toxic mix. Anabaptists, Dissenters, Puritans, and later Baptists prized religious freedom because they suffered from church-state marriage.
Since the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 70s, we have been trying to defy that history, hitching the church to the GOP, thinking both could prosper. It has been good for the GOP but I am convinced it has not been bad for the church. When we subvert our calling to proclaim Christ and make disciples to “Make America Great Again” and defeat the Democrats, we have lost our way.
That is what Dr. Mohler is doing, and has been doing since his dramatic flip-flop on Trump. He was a Never-Trumper who inexplicably jumped on the Trump Train, and became one of its conductors. He is a scholar and knows that the marriage of church and state has never ended well for the church. Why is he putting all his eggs in the GOP basket now?
4. It is important to remember that he does not speak FOR Southern Baptists.
Because of his status, many assume he speaks for all of us. I want to make it clear he does not speak for me. He has his voice and the right to speak, just as I do. I do not speak for our convention and neither does he. He is entitled to HIS voice but it is not OUR voice.
There are many of us in the SBC who reject his political partisanship, his seeking to marry our convention to the GOP, and his recent coddling of the extremist right-wing of the SBC. I hope he will resume his position as a statesman in the SBC, a voice of unity and theological conviction for our convention.
This was not that.