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?

Tomorrow I will vote, and I will vote my conscience

Tomorrow is election day, and what a year it has been leading up to this point. If anyone back then had said that the two major candidates would be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the rest of us would have nodded in agreement to the first prediction and shaken our heads and laughed at the second. Yet here we are.

To call this election “contentious”, even among evangelicals, would be an understatement. I think most of us are ready for November 9 so we can see the end of robocalls, political ads on TV, and Facebook posts about how civilization as we know it will come to an end if either major candidate is elected, or how it’s morally unconscionable for a Christian to vote or not vote for Trump.

Tomorrow I will go vote. Though this election is about our choice for president, there is also much more on our ballots. In my county, one of the most contested races is for coroner, of all things. And when I vote for each candidate and issue, I will vote my conscience, and then I will go to sleep on Tuesday night trusting that Jesus is still on the throne.

As I make my decision, here are a few things that will guide my choices and I hope may guide yours as well…

First, there are certain issues that ARE that important. In other words: deal breakers exist. Frankly, I’m an odd conservative at times. Though agreeing that the second amendment clearly protects a person’s right to own a gun, I favor stronger laws concerning background checks, assault style weapons, and safety education. I would also like to see an end to fracking, the Keystone pipeline not built, and more money pumped into research and development of “greener” energy sources. Yet depending on the candidate, on these things I am somewhat flexible. These are not deal breakers.

The candidate’s view on the sanctity of human life, on the other hand, is. I could agree with a candidate’s position down to the minutia of every other issue, yet if they are pro-killing-babies-in-the-womb, they will not receive my vote. Human life is human life, no matter how small and no matter where it is located. While there may be rare cases where abortion becomes medically necessary, such as the sure endangerment of the life of the mother, most abortions do not fit into this category. Ultimately, what we need is a pro-life platform that points to solutions for poverty, health care, and other issues that play into the tough decisions women face. But pro-life convictions are a necessity for one to have my vote.

Second, character matters as much if not more than platform. The Bible is replete with examples of good character among the rulers leading to prosperous times within a country and bad character leading to disaster and ruin. Proverbs 29:2 captures this reality well: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” Simply put, it doesn’t matter what a person promises according to his or her platform, if their character is highly suspect and visibly corrupt, they will not receive my vote.

It is amazing the things that some Christians say to defend politicians of poor character. “Nobody is perfect, and we’re not electing a pastor but a president/governor/senator/etc.” True, but character still matters. No one is perfect (including pastors and presidents), but a person can still strive for integrity and other virtues. “God used wicked rulers in the Bible to accomplish his will.” Again, true. But God’s faithful people didn’t vote them into office.

If righteous leaders help the people rejoice and wicked leaders cause the people to groan, then character matters greatly. A person who has demonstrated poor character as a matter of lifestyle will not receive my vote.

Third, in the end, I must act according to my conscience and faith. All of us Christians should hold this principle in great regard. The Bible doesn’t say much about casting votes in a democratic-republic. It gives us certain things to consider, like those mentioned above. As an informed voter, I must search scripture and spend time in prayer. I must look into the candidates and issues while seeking the wisdom of God above the rhetoric of man to guide me. Then I must act in faith and according to my conscience.

In Romans 14:23, after teaching on what we call “Christian liberty”—our views and actions concerning things to which the Bible does not directly speak, Paul concluded: “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In terms of God’s commands and laws, it may not be a sin to vote for Candidate X; but if it goes against my conscience to vote for Candidate X, then I have sinned. I have acted contrary to my trust in God.

This is a category that seems to be lacking in much of what Christians have written on the topic of this election. We’re not going to agree on the candidates, that much is for sure. However, we must respect one another’s conscience decision and not judge one another whether or not we agree on a particular candidate and even whether or not we agree on the necessity of voting.

Fourth, when the day is done, go to bed and sleep well. When David was being pursued by his son Absalom, he cried out to God and said:

You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. ~Psalm 3:3-6

No matter who will be president after the vote on November 8, Jesus is still on his throne. The United States is a part of God’s plan, but it is not the center of God’s plan. His plan is for the global exaltation of Christ, and no matter who the rulers are or what they do, Jesus will be exalted above all (Psalm 2, Acts 17, Philippians 2). We do not worry about tomorrow, for God is not worried about tomorrow. So, when election night is over, we can lay down at night and sleep well knowing that Jesus is still on his throne.

Not long ago, I heard a radio advertisement for a conference featuring a particular former presidential candidate as the main speaker. One of the lines in the advertisement was: “If we lose religious liberty, we lose everything.”

We should pray for, cherish, and work for religious liberty in our land as much as we can, but the ad is wrong. Even if the laws of the land declare Christianity illegal, if we have Christ, then we have everything. If we have nothing other than Jesus, then we have everything. Our hope is not in politics and laws, but in the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

So tomorrow, I will vote. I will vote for people who I believe have good character, I will vote for those who are pro-life, and I will vote according to my conscience. Then when the day is done, I will rejoice and rest in the reality that Jesus is King.

A grown man in the girl’s restroom

We need to be better spokespersons on the issue of transgenderism. It seems the message from conservatives can be boiled down to one question. I’ve seen it all over Facebook, heard it in conversations, and saw that even Ted Cruz was touting it during his last-ditch effort to stave off a Trump nomination:

“Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?”

In a world of sound bytes and 140 character limits, it’s not surprising that conservatives have settled on this as the summary representative of their argument, thinking that their position is so obvious that only a complete idiot would fail to be convinced by it. But it’s not winning hearts and minds, and instead it’s actually feeding the liberal belief that conservatives, and Christians in particular, are bigots and fear mongers who must be repudiated and silenced lest they acquire enough power to force everyone to adopt their restrictive ways.

The question above implies that allowing transgendered individuals access to their restroom of choice will expose others to child molestation and rape. It’s an argument based on fear, and a highly exaggerated one at that. After all, isn’t your little boy just as much at risk from a male sexual predator in places where people must use the bathroom matching their biological sex? Common sense tells us that people who commit such crimes try to do so without witnesses milling about. A man doesn’t have to pretend to be transgendered in order to sexually assault a woman in a public restroom. He just has to have sufficient opportunity to do so where there isn’t anybody around. Truth be told, that probably accounts for most, if not all, public restroom rapes, not someone pretending to be the opposite sex.

The real problem with this “enabling sexual predators” question is that it shifts the focus away from the real issue. The root of the problem is not that a pedophile or rapist could abuse the system. The root of the problem is that it allows and even encourages people to adopt a false reality that stems from and inevitably contributes to serious mental health issues and sin.

Our society says the liberal stance on transgenderism is about equality and fighting discrimination and oppression. Christianity says the problem lies with a society that is willing to deny reality for the sake of the right to self-determination. This is idolatry: the exaltation of self as supreme. Our culture is not really concerned for transgendered individuals. And if our argument can be reduced to, “Do you want a grown man to follow your little girl into the women’s restroom?” then neither are we.

As Christians, we should always occupy the moral high ground in our dealings with a corrupt and sinful society. We can do that by being better advocates for transgendered individuals than society is. We advocate for them by pointing out the cruelty telling people they can change reality to fit their feelings when this approach will not fix their problems and does not work in other areas of life such as finances, employment, or relationships. We advocate for them by affirming the inherent goodness of every individual’s biological sex. We advocate for them by providing and challenging the world to provide real mental health care that affirms that goodness and treats the mind, not “care” that involves mutilating a healthy body.

The next time you’re tempted to make that post on Facebook or throw in that zinger in your conversation, stop and refocus on the central issue of the inherent goodness of our biological sex.