Martin Luther King, Jr. & Destiny Will Meet April 3-4, 2018 at the SBC ERLC King Celebration, MLK50

If Dr. King were alive, he would be utterly amazed that the Southern Baptist Convention, this year will be hosting a party in his honor in Memphis, Tennessee. When he penned “The Letter from The Birmingham Jail,” King had his “Christian and Jewish brothers” in mind, including Southern Baptists, when he wrote the following words in April 1963:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities ‘unwise and untimely.’

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.’

The Clergyman in Birmingham also referred to King as an “outside agitator.”

In April 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr., was gaining national fame and spoke in Chapel at the flagship theological seminary, among the Southern Baptists’ six seminaries, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. As historian, Taylor Branch, wrote in his biography of King, concerning the response of powerful Southern Baptists who opposed Martin Luther King’s visit and Southern Seminary’s invitation to Martin Luther King:

Within the church [SBC], this simple invitation was racial and theological heresy, such that churches across the South rescinded their regular donations to the seminary.

During his lifetime, Dr. King experienced criticism, rejection and at best, “lukewarm acceptance” from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Fast forward to today. Over 3500 (primarily Southern Baptists) have registered in Memphis in 2018 to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, who was assassinated by an Anglo son of the South on April 4, 1968. What a difference 50 years make! The SBC attitude toward King has gone through a metamorphosis over the past 50 years, as the entire Convention has made substantial and measurable progress on the racial front.

In 50 years, the SBC has moved from castigating to celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. In 50 years, the SBC has moved from denying Blacks seats at the table of leadership, to electing Fred Luter as the first African American President of the SBC in 2012 and H.B. Charles as President of the Pastors Conference in 2017. In 50 years, the SBC has moved from viewing Blacks almost exclusively as a missions project, to engaging Blacks as mission partners and co-laborers. In 50 years, the SBC has moved from opposing the Civil Rights movement to passing resolutions overwhelmingly in favor of denouncing the Confederate Flag and the Alt-Right. Within 60 years, the SBC has moved from non-admittance of Blacks in Southern Baptist Seminaries, to appointing Walter Strickland as Vice President of Kingdom Diversity and Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Within 50 years the SBC has shifted from the highest ranking Black in the SBC Executive Building headquarters being the “head custodian” to, Ken Weathersby, serving as a Vice President of the Executive Committee. The SBC passed a resolution acknowledging the historic election of President Barack Obama in 2009. Dr. Russell Moore, Dr. Frank Page, Dr. Danny Akin, Dr. Fred Luter, Dr. Steve Gaines, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Dr. James Merritt and a host of others, have worked diligently to move the ball down the road in advancing God’s Kingdom Agenda for racial inclusion and empowerment in the SBC. Yet, there is a vocal minority in the SBC that has registered opposition to the 50 Years King Celebration, as did their forbearers, 50 years ago, perhaps for different reasons though.

The SBC ERLC has spoken out against police brutality and in favor of comprehensive immigration reform under the prophetic and transformative leadership of Dr. Russell Moore. Never would this kind of prophetic advocacy occur during King’s lifetime. The SBC has by word, deed and repentance, earned the right to legitimately celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.

The largest racial hurdle the SBC has yet to overcome is the exclusion of Blacks and other minorities serving as an entity head. Entity heads also constitute the Great Commission Council of the SBC. How can you have a Great Commission Council that reflects only one ethnicity within the Convention? Currently, with two entity head positions vacant, the all-White Great Commission Council should soon change, in the spirit of Martin Luther King’s dream.

Doctrinal and moral concerns are the two most common objections raised regarding reasons to suggest that the SBC ERLC not honor and celebrate the 50th year death of Dr. King.

Many have called attention to some writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recorded in his dissertation for his Ph.D. work at Boston University that reflects liberal theological leanings.

Admittedly, Martin Luther King casts dubious questions and doubts on orthodox views of the virgin birth, deity of Christ, and the resurrection, reflected in his graduate school writings. I even recall reading that while in Sunday School as a youth at his father’s church, he raised questions concerning the validity of the gospel accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Even John the Baptist, while in prison, sent word to Jesus, “Are you the Christ or shall we look for another?” Doubt and questioning usually take place at some point in the pilgrimage of every believer. Many of us simply have not recorded our thoughts or spoken aloud when battling with doubt. John the Baptist experienced days of doubt, but he died devoted to the belief that Christ was King of God’s Kingdom—so did Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Carl Ellis, reports that Martin Luther King applied to two conservative seminaries, and was rejected by both because of his color. He matriculated in the M.Div. and Ph.D. programs at liberal theological schools in the ‘40’s. Conservative schools simply were not enrolling Black students at the time. Dr. Ellis testifies that one of the schools that rejected Martin Luther King as a graduate seminary student also rejected him for the same reason. It’s really arrogant to criticize a man for embracing liberal theology, when you refuse to allow him to enroll in theologically conservative institutions. SBC seminaries did not enroll Black students until the ‘50’s, when they announced they would only enroll “highly qualified Negroes.” Not allowing Blacks to enroll in SBC seminaries was a practical denial of the faith, equally as problematic as King’s liberal theological leanings during his graduate work.

The good news after completing his Ph.D. and while pastoring the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King returned to the faith of his father—Martin Luther King, Sr. Dr. King testified that he was returning to the “God that would make a way, out of no way.” That’s common phraseology in the Black church to refer to The God of the Bible. Furthermore, King announced that he was embracing his father’s God; again, which was also another way of expressing in Black theological circles that he was returning to orthodoxy. He made those statements on the heels of bombs being blasted at his home in Montgomery, potentially endangering the lives of his wife and children.

In one of his lesser known sermons, preached at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, April 1957, in a message entitled “Questions That Easter Answers,” Dr. King made the following statements that ought to lay to rest his beliefs in orthodoxy:

Easter is a day above all days. It surpasses the mystery and marvel of Christmas with all of the glory of the incarnation. (MLK believed in the incarnation, which would include the virgin birth and Christ’s Deity.)

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ we have fit testimony that this earthly life is not the end…  (Martin Luther King’s confession of the resurrection in his own words)

…men through the generations have learned when they live close to Jesus Christ, that Easter can emerge, and that all of the darkness of Good Friday can pass away. (You cannot live close to Jesus, unless He is the living Lord.)

And this means that life is meaningful, that life is not doomed to frustration and futility but life can end up in fulfillment in the life and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We thank you, this morning, for your Son, Jesus, who came by to let us know that love is the most durable power in the world, who came by to let us know that death can’t defeat us, to take the sting out of the grave and death and make it possible for all of us to have eternal life. We thank you, oh God. And God grant that we will be grateful recipients of thy eternal blessings. In the name and spirit of Jesus, we pray. Amen. (I am baffled as to how anyone can read Martin Luther King’s Easter 1957 sermon and prayer and conclude that he did not believe the gospel.)

Martin Luther King, Jr. shed his liberal views on Christology expressed during his graduate school years and preached the powerful Easter message in 1957 (previously referenced) that affirms the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His Lordship. It would certainly be appropriate for those claiming that Dr. King did not believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ to now acknowledge this misunderstanding.

Many are unaware that Al Mohler and Frank Page embraced liberal views on women in ministry while in graduate school studying under more moderate/liberal professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Later, as did Martin Luther King, Jr., they shed their liberal views and embraced a view on women in ministry more akin to the BF&M 2000.

The second objection to the King celebration has to do with his “alleged immoral lifestyle.” The reason I say alleged is because I am unfamiliar with any female or male, or their descendants or relatives, who have testified to a personal sexual encounter with Dr. King. That is not to say, one or more did not transpire, it is simply to say, I find it interesting that no one has come forth to claim such a personal encounter.

Nevertheless, my response to this objection will be relatively brief. I was recently asked: how can the church reconcile Martin Luther King’s adultery, plagiarism and doctrinal deviancy with a celebration?

My answer: Whatever sins Martin Luther King was guilty of were a matter between his God, his wife and children, his congregation and himself. The church does not have to reconcile King’s sins with any celebration of him. Just as the church does not have to reconcile the racism of W.A. and Betty Criswell, who are both on record unrepentantly claiming Africans were cursed and assigned to servitude. The Criswell’s will have to give an account to God for their racism. My father, knowing Criswell was a racist, loved to hear him preach and had several of his books in our home during my formative, ministerial years. I would celebrate Criswell today, not because of his sin, but because of his good. And that is why the SBC ought to celebrate Martin Luther King. I hope many others will join the celebration in Memphis as a testimony to the grace, goodness and redemption of God, in all our lives and as another major step in the SBC toward racial healing.

May the Spirit of God breathe upon The King Memphis Celebration! May Southern Baptists come from the North, South, East and West! Job well done SBC ERLC!

BP Reports Prestonwood to Continue CP Giving

This afternoon Baptist Press reported that Prestonwood Baptist Church would resume their Cooperative Program giving. The article specifies their giving will be without designation, meaning there will be no redirection of funds away from any specific entities. This is a welcome resolution to an issue that had gone mostly quiet since Russell Moore and ERLC trustees released their ‘Seeking Unity’ statement more than a month ago.

“After a time of prayerful evaluation, Prestonwood is renewing our commitment to Southern Baptist missions by giving to the Cooperative Program without designation,” Prestonwood executive pastor Mike Buster told Baptist Press in a statement.

The BP article mentions the Executive Committee studies that are currently underway, but it’s too early to give any updates on what effect this news will on their work. I remember it being implied somewhere along the way that if the Prestonwood issue were resolved, then the need for the study committees would greatly diminish since Prestonwood seemed “representative” of those churches who had expressed concerns. (I wish I could remember the source, was it Rummage on the SBC This Week podcast who said that? If someone remembers, please jump in the comments.)

While I’m glad to see Prestonwood restore their previous funding for CP missions causes, I remain firm in my view that this whole episode was unhealthy and unnecessarily divisive in the life of the SBC. I’m concerned about this tactic being used in the future, regardless of the “side” or cause that chooses to employ it. We shouldn’t use missions funding as a bargaining tool. Every church has a responsibility to steward their missions giving in a way that supports the causes they desire – you won’t see me criticize a church for directing funds toward this or away from that entity. But when demands are being made (We’re not giving to the IMB until this action is taken… or We’re stopping CP giving until our concerns are addressed…), whether spoken or implied, that ought to be treated as out-of-bounds by all of us.

Disagreements about their tactics aside, I want to thank and express appreciation for Prestonwood for their past and future missions giving, along with many other large churches who give huge sums of money to support our missions work, seminaries, and other cooperative efforts. We’re not a perfect convention, and we have our disagreements, but we do a lot of good things as we work together for the Kingdom of Christ.

Offering for the ERLC – SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2017

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with four children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Udemy, YouTube, and iTunes (Podcast).

The church I pastor, Cumberland Homesteads Baptist Church in Crossville, TN, is planning to take up an offering for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) on June 4, 2017. I want to encourage your church to do the same (Add it to your Church Calendar). Why June 4? This date is the Sunday before June 8, which marks 228 years from when James Madison first presented his constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) to the House of Representatives (Source). Madison included religious liberty (the 1st Amendment) in large part due to the work of Baptist pastor John Leland, who threatened to run for Madison’s seat if he did not plead the Baptist cause for religious liberty (Source). Madison kept his word to defend religious liberty and the rest is history.

What is the ERLC’s purpose? “The ERLC is dedicated to engaging the culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ and speaking to issues in the public square for the protection of religious liberty and human flourishing. Our vision can be summed up in three words: kingdom, culture and mission” (Source).

Who leads the ERLC? The ERLC President is Dr. Russell Moore. He has courageously and faithfully lead the ERLC since 2013. He has lead the ERLC to speak and act in accordance with our confession (BF&M2K, especially Article XVII. Religious Liberty), to carry out their responsibilities in accordance with the ministry statement approved by Southern Baptists (included below), and he has spoken in line with the SBC resolution “On Moral Character of Public Officials” (1998). By all accounts, he is a faithful Christian, husband, father, Southern Baptist, leader, and preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has used him mightily and I look forward to seeing how God uses him and the ERLC in the future.

All love offering checks can be made to the “ERLC” and mailed to

ERLC
901 Commerce Street
Suite 550
Nashville, TN 37203

If you would like to make an individual donation, you can also donate online here.

MINISTRY STATEMENT

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)

Ministry Statement Approved (by the SBC) June 1997

Mission

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission exists to assist the churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel, apply Christian principles to moral and social problems and questions of public policy, and to promote religious liberty in cooperation with the churches and other Southern Baptist entities.

Ministries

1. Assist Churches in applying the moral and ethical teachings of the Bible to the Christian life.

Provide research, information resources, consultation, and counsel to denominational entities, churches and individuals with regard to the application of Christian principles in everyday living and the nation’s public life.

2. Assist churches through the communication and advocacy of moral and ethical concerns in the public arena.

Represent Southern Baptists in communicating the ethical positions of the Southern Baptist Convention to the public and to public officials.

3. Assist churches in their moral witness in local communities.

Provide information resources that inform and equip churches for active moral witness in their communities.

4. Assist churches and other Southern Baptist entities by promoting religious liberty.

Provide information and counsel to denominational entities, churches, and individuals regarding appropriate responses to religious liberty concerns; represent Southern Baptists in communicating the positions of the Southern Baptist Convention on religious liberty issues to the public and to public officials.

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?