What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “Various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

What Changed? (a question in light of Prestonwood Baptist’s decision to escrow gifts to the Cooperative Program)

Big news yesterday from the church of an ex-SBC president. Jack Graham said that Prestonwood Baptist has decided to “to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries while the congregation discusses concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to Will Hall at the Baptist Message, the “news journal” of Louisiana Baptists.

While each church has the right to determine how to support the cooperative efforts of the SBC, this particular decision takes on a more public light given Graham’s previous position as SBC President, the significance of the sum of money, and the decision of Prestonwood leadership to speak with the Baptist Message about their decision.

According to Hall’s article, Mike Buster, executive pastor of the church, said the decision stems from “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Hall goes on to write, “Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has created tensions among Southern Baptists by signing a friend of the court brief in support of the construction of a mosque, and, for making strident insults against evangelical supporters of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election process.” It is not clear, though, from Hall’s article if these are specific concerns stated by Prestonwood representatives or interjections by Hall himself.

Nonetheless, Hall’s words raise the specter that the church’s decision is rooted in positions taken by Dr. Moore on the issues of religious liberty and political candidates. To be fair to both sides, Moore did state some of his positions in a calloused manner, a reality for which he later apologized.

I want to return to the statement: “Various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.” In light of Hall’s article, significant positions center especially on the ERLC’s filing of the amicus brief and Moore’s opposition to Trump as president.

My question in response to this is: When did the beliefs and values of many in the SBC change?

I would like to point to three resolutions adopted by the messengers of the SBC since the mid-1990s. Though non-binding, resolutions do reflect the opinions held by messengers of Southern Baptist Churches present at the conventions. First, messengers adopted a resolution on Religious Liberty in 1995 at the Atlanta, GA, convention. The resolution states:

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, By the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, that the Southern Baptist Convention express its support for all peoples suffering denial of religious liberty, but especially for those who are of the household of faith, and even more particularly for those who share Baptist convictions and commitments…

Taking a Galatians 6 angle of doing good to all people and especially to those of the household of faith, the resolution states that we as the SBC support religious liberty for all people. Yes, our main focus should be upon our Christian brothers and sisters, but not to the denial of liberty for others. If you read the resolution, this attitude is rooted in the desire to help Christians in persecuted countries worship and evangelize freely. In other words, the messengers understood a connection between freedom for all religions and our liberty as Christians to evangelize the nations.

Another resolution, passed at the 2011 convention in Phoenix, AZ, expresses a similar idea. The desire within the resolution is to want people in Islamic countries to have the freedom to convert away from Islam. Yet, with this in mind, the first five resolveds state:

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011, restate our long-standing view that religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God and possessed by all human beings; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that this freedom entails the civil liberty to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we oppose the imposition of any system of jurisprudence by which people of different faiths do not enjoy the same legal rights; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we deny that any government should use any coercive measure—including zoning laws or permits—to restrict religious speech or worship, based on the theological content of that speech or worship; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States government to maintain complete religious liberty for all Americans, as guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution; and be it further…

In short, the messengers to the SBC spoke their view that people of different faiths than Christianity deserve the same rights of freedom as Christianity, and the government should not use coercive measures against such freedoms.

So, if the resolutions of 1995 and 2011 speak an opinion of the SBC, it would seem that the view presented by Hall and Prestonwood representatives is out of step with the beliefs and values of many in the SBC. Unless, that is, they are contending that our beliefs and values on religious liberty have changed over the past six years.

As to Moore’s positions against Trump, I point to a resolution adopted at the 1998 convention in Salt Lake City, UT. The “Resolution on the Moral Character of Public Officials” concludes:

“Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

In the midst of the moral scandals of the Clinton administration, we Southern Baptists spoke firmly on our belief that character matters in politics. We did not expect our politicians to be perfect, but we urged one another and our fellow citizens to vote for men and women of “consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

With the election of President Trump, some SBC leaders came out in strong support of the candidate despite him not meeting these qualifications. Dr. Moore was not one of these. Yet, despite the voice of the SBC, historically, speaking to high moral standards for politicians, Hall’s article states that it is Moore who was out of step with the view of many Southern Baptists. If so, what changed?

Again, Dr. Graham can lead his church how he sees fit and Prestonwood is free to decide how to contribute to the Cooperative Program. Yet the reasons given for their decision seem spurious. We Southern Baptists have consistently spoken in favor of religious liberty for all people, not just Christians. We have also spoken of the need for high moral character in political leadership, and especially in the nation’s highest office.

Why is it that in 2016-17, we are being led to believe by Baptist news journals, former SBC presidents, and other SBC leaders that stances by men like Russell Moore on such topics are now out of step with many Southern Baptists? If that is true, then what changed?

Be Excellent to Each Other (a call for a new year’s revolution)

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of those movies from my childhood that you would not typically think would be a source of wisdom. Yet, near the end, Bill S. Preston, Esq., utters a line that we need to hear today: “Be excellent to each other.”

Funny how sometimes certain things in pop culture articulate a much-needed biblical truth…in their own way.

Let’s face it, 2016 was a year of much vitriol, especially in a bitter political race. You had some Christian leaders seeming to question the spiritual maturity of those voting for one candidate, and others calling those not voting for the same candidate hypocrites and “namby-pamby, panty-waisted weak-kneed Christians.” Over such things, much ink (pixelated ink?) has been spilt, but the simple fact we have been devoted to such discussions (arguments?) betrays the sad reality: Our attitudes about each other as Christians was more influenced by the tone of the worldly than the admonitions to the godly.

We, as humans, are passionate beings. We just let our passions get carried along by the wrong currents at times.

Paul knew this 2000 years ago. Having left Titus in charge of assisting and ordering the fledgling churches in Crete, he told Titus to remind the Cretan Christians: “…to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1-2). Or, in the more modern words of an adventuring dude: Be excellent to each other.

Of course, we can expect certain things to remain true. Certain political pundits on TV, radio, and the internet will continue to bash, berate, and be anything but excellent to others. Certain politicians will continue to belittle and stir up strife. Certain bloggers will write as if 1 Corinthians 13 doesn’t exist in their Bibles, because they are guardians of discernment in their own minds. Certain protesters will still line the streets shouting how God hates everyone but them.

When we encounter such attitudes and actions, we need to remember that we too “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).

But, now in Christ, washed, redeemed, and filled with the Holy Spirit, our lives and words are to tell a different story, a more excellent story, in person and on our computer screens (Titus 3:4-9).

Soon we will flip our calendars and 2016 will be no more. We’ve spent enough time bare knuckle boxing. It’s time to let the bruises and busted knuckles heal. It’s past time that we devote ourselves to what is “excellent and profitable for people” and avoid the foolish controversies and quarrels that are “unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:8-9).

Let’s step into 2017, not looking to pick a fight, but being excellent to each other by showing one another love and grace, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, spurring on one another to growth in Jesus, and showing the world the awesome love and glory of our Lord through our word and deeds.

What’s your Bible reading plan for 2017?

Sixteen years ago, while in college, my church and Baptist Student Union challenged, encouraged, and held me accountable for something like no one had before: To read the Bible. I had been a Christian for 15 years leading up to that point. Along the way, I had bits and pieces of scripture embedded into memory. I would follow, in spurts, various reading plans that had a few verses here and a few there. But I had never actually devoted myself to read the whole of scripture, or even large chunks of it.

And the spiritual illiteracy showed.

But in the fall of 2000, that began to change. In that time, I have used various plans, some from different ministry resources and some homemade, to read through the Bible. In 2015-16, sensing a need to encourage my church members to read their Bibles, I developed a two-year plan that, if followed, would take them through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice while reading on average 3 chapters a day, 5 days a week.

This week, we finish that plan. For me, this will have been my 8th time in the last 16 years of reading through the Bible.

In addition to this, there are several books of the Bible that I know quite well by spending extra time studying them for the purpose of preaching or teaching (Hebrews, 1 Peter, John, and 2 Timothy top this list). But for 2017, I’m aiming to do something different.

For those in my church who want to do a one-year Bible reading plan, I’m encouraging the use of The Read Scripture Plan by the minds behind The Bible Project. This plan looks at Scripture both thematically and chronological, dividing the Bible into 15 thematic “chapters.” Those who use it will read and pray through a psalm a day (for about 2.5 trips through the Psalms), and will read two or three other chapters each day (though they have “skimming” days through larger chunks like genealogies and tabernacle minutia). In addition to this, they have available their well-done videos available online for free, introducing each book as well as several other themes in Scripture.

Personally, though, I have decided to use 2017 to become more intimately acquainted with four books of the Bible, separate from my sermon prep. I plan on spending three months on each book, reading and rereading, as well as reading through a major commentary for each—two books from the New Testament and two from the Old. For January-March, I plan on focusing on Romans, then Leviticus for April-June, and Mark for July-September. I’m still pondering what to do for the second Old Testament book to the end the year (suggestions welcomed, wanting to go someplace other than the Pentateuch).

So, how about you? If you’ve never read all the way through the Bible, I encourage you to do just that in 2017. Otherwise, what is your plan for Bible reading in the upcoming year?