What Should I do: Thoughts on Political and Cultural Engagement

I’m struggling.  I’m struggling with how to engage culture for God’s glory.  The recent nomination fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh forced that struggle to the front of my conscience.  There are five realities guiding my decisions on cultural engagement, and five action steps I’d like to take in the future.

5 Realities

  1. I have friends who I want to influence with the gospel:  This reality hits me hard.  I have many friends who don’t think like me, vote like me, share my background, etc…  I want be a Christ like influence in their lives.
  2. I see our society moving in a counter gospel direction:  I’m concerned about the direction of our culture.  We’re not moving toward the gospel.  We’re not moving toward Christ.  We’re moving away from Christlike values.
  3. I have opinions:  I have opinions on politics and on other aspects of our society.  I have biblically informed opinions that I’d like to share. I’d like to be a part of the conversation.
  4. My political party does not always align with my opinions:  This has become abundantly clear in the past two years.  The Republican party has moved farther to the right, and has left me feeling like a man without a party.
  5. God is neither republican or democrat:  I may feel like a man without a party, but I am never without God.  There will be democrats who spend an eternity with Christ.  There will be republicans who do not.  This is the most important reality.  It connects back to the first reality.  My heart’s desire is to see all my friends spend an eternity with God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

What am I to do?  These realities are difficult to navigate.  I’m not the only Christian struggling with the correct biblical posture for cultural engagement.  Here are five action steps I’d like to recommend to those who are struggling with this issue, both democrat and republican.  I’m committed to following these steps in the future:

  1. Do not be a stumbling block:  When Southern Baptists met for our annual meeting  in St. Louis in 2015, the messengers debated a resolution supporting a ban on the display of the confederate flag on public property.  There were emotional speeches on both sides of the issue.  Dr. James Merritt said, (I’m paraphrasing here) “If the confederate flag causes my brother or sister to tune out the gospel, then the confederate flag must go.”  If the voicing of my political opinions causes my brother or sister to miss the message of the gospel, then I should keep my political opinions to myself.
  2.   Engage with purpose and grace:  I always need to ask myself, why am I engaging this person on this issue?  Am I just looking for a fight?  Am I just looking to prove someone wrong?  Christ never engaged just to fight someone or prove someone wrong.  He always engaged with purpose and with grace.  The message of God’s grace was always on his lips, and He offered forgiveness while simultaneously standing against sin.
  3. Cultivate more relationships with people who do not think like me:  I can’t engage in meaningful discussion in an echo chamber–see reality number one.  I want to cultivate more of those relationships.  I want to genuinely listen to arguments.  Those arguments may not change my mind, but they give me an insight into people and their thoughts.
  4. Those who have different values are not my enemy:  There are too many conservative Christians who treat non-Christians as enemies.  They are not our enemy. The Bible says our fight is against the ruler of this atmospheric domain.  I want to always be careful not to treat those who ideologically oppose me as my enemies.
  5. I will not belong to either political party:  I’ve found myself in the position of not belonging to either political party.  I will still vote for a certain type of candidate, but I will not vote republican just because I’m a Southern Baptist Pastor.  The Republican or Democratic, or whatever party will have to earn my vote.

This is where I’ve arrived in my struggle.  Paul wrote in Philippians 3, verse 12 and following, “Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brothers I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

Have We Taken God out of School?

I fell for it.  I fell for it, hook line and sinker.  I parroted this critique of the liberal public education establishment:  they’ve taken God out of our schools.  That was before I became involved with our local school.

There are many who believe that the cause of our societal decline began when The Supreme Court outlawed prayer in public schools.  The Supreme Court’s decision in Engel vs. Vitale has become an easy scapegoat for the moral decline in our nation.  It’s convenient to blame nine dead justices for everything we revile about our society, but in our righteous” anger, we’re exacerbating the problem.

When we declare God’s removal from public schools, we’re declaring that The United States Supreme Court has the power to move God.  We proclaim the sovereignty of God from our pulpits, but in our conversations we intimate the sovereignty of a human institution.  The court didn’t push God out the door of our schools in 1962.  They only forbade government sanctioned recitation of prayers.  God was never taken out of our schools, and He never will be.

When we propagate this untruth, we’re insulting our teachers.  There are three public school teachers in my congregation who pray for their students.  Are their prayers not heard?  Do their prayers not count?  If God has been taken out of our schools are the prayers of Christian teachers useless?  I’ve found most teachers to be courageous, humble, and selfless.  Christ encourages and pronounces blessings on people with those qualities.  If God was not in our schools anymore, we wouldn’t have so many quality educators.

I also pray for my children every morning as they get on the bus.  I used to pray only for my children, but now when the bus drives by my widow, I pray for all the children on the bus.  If God were absent from our schools then my prayers would be useless.  I know there are other parents who pray for the school children.

There are also children who pray for one another.  What are we telling those children when we tell them that God has been taken out of school?  We’re telling them that their prayers don’t count either.  That subtle lie does more spiritual damage to our children than we’ll ever realize.

When we insinuate the uselessness of prayers from teachers, parents, and students, we’re operating from a defeatist mindset.  Christ has admonished us to not be afraid because He has overcome the world.  There is no reason to operate as though we’ve been defeated, and when we act as though prayers for our school, we are slowly conceding the battle to the enemy.

There are also parents who use this battle cry to pull their children out of public schools.  We’ve removed a large chunk of Christians and children from Christian homes from our schools, and that has done more to erode the potential spiritual impact than the Supreme Court’s decision in 1962. We should never use our children as missionaries in our public schools, and there are situations where it is necessary to remove children from a public school.  However, by removing so many Christian children from our public schools, we have removed a large Christian influence from a public institution.  The secularization of our schools should come as no surprise when we remove Christian influence.  When we remove our children from public schools, we also remove our influence from them as well.

I’ve made some of you angry.  I can hear you furiously pecking at your keyboards with accusations such as:  how dare you insinuate that I’ve done more to remove God from our schools than The Supreme Court.  You’re going to accuse me of sending my kids into a secular public school just to be missionaries.  You’ll probably tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m only 38.

My family is blessed to live in a small town with an outstanding school.  We know and love our teachers and administrators.  There are many of you who are not that blessed and have made the decision to not educate your children in the public school.  I respect that decision and know that education, both public and private is complicated.

What’s indisputable is God’s presence in our public schools.  He never left because God does not dwell in a building.  His Holy Spirit lives in each one of us.  If we kicked God out of school, which we could never do in the first place, then every teacher who is filled with The Holy Spirit would have to leave.

I’m never going to utter the phrase, “we kicked God out of school,” again except to point out the absurdity of that notion.  God bless all of the courageous teachers who dedicate their lives to the education of our children.

SBC 2018–Thankful

This post was originally posted at hiswordhisglory.wordpress.com

I am a proud Southern Baptist and have spent the last 3 days at our annual meeting.  There’s been plenty of negativity surrounding our annual meeting, but I’m going to stick those aspects of the annual meeting for which I am thankful.  Here are my top ten reasons to be thankful for SBC2018

  1. We continue our belief in the inerrancy of scripture–There was no debate over Biblical interpretation, and there was nothing done that moved us towards a more liberal theology.  while other denominations continue their liberal slide, we stand firmly rooted in the Word of God.
  2. We saw a generational leadership change–I believe we saw the beginnings of a generational leadership change which was overwhelmingly supported by the messengers.  The election of JD Grear as our president, the restoration of Mr. Anderson to the board of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, and the refusal to dismiss the executive committee of the board of trustees of SWBTS were all votes that fell along generational lines.  What I mean by generational lines is that votes to dismiss Mr. Anderson, and dismiss the executive committee of the SWBTS trustees seem to come from older messengers.  I am thankful there were plenty of older messengers who restored Mr. Anderson and defeated the SWBTS trustees motion.  I do believe this was the beginning of a generational leadership change.
  3. My parents and in-laws kept our children–I am grateful that our parents, all four of them, kept our children, giving my wife and I some needed time to ourselves.
  4. I’m thankful for Mike Pence–No, I did not hear his speech, and I do not think he should have been allowed to address our meeting, but what’s done is done, and I am thankful we have a man of faith in his position.
  5. I’m thankful for JD Greear–I believe JD Greear will be a great president for our convention.  I have nothing but respect for Ken Hemphill, and the work he has done on behalf of Southern Baptists, but I’m thankful JD Greear was elected by an overwhelming majority.
  6. I’m thankful I got to spend time with my wife–My wife and I are annual meeting geeks.  We go every year and plan to continue going as long as we can.  I love spending time alone with my wife.  We saw an old friend of mine at the convention and he said we should rethink our definition of vacation, but we love Southern Baptists and we love spending time together.  The annual meeting is our definition of a vacation.  The only request I have is that we have a convention on the beach sometime in the future.
  7. I’m thankful for the works MBTS is doing–We went to the “For the Church” luncheon and the “Midwestern Seminary Friends and Alumni” luncheon.  In both luncheons we heard about the incredible work Midwestern is doing, and we also heard men of character stand strong in their beliefs.  I’m sure the other seminaries are excellent, but if I had to recommend a seminary, MBTS would be at the top of my list.  They are strengthening our local churches.
  8. I’m thankful for Bart Barber–I didn’t think anyone could steal MVP of the convention from the red-haired boy who made the motion Tuesday afternoon, but Bart Barber showed everyone why we call the governing bodies of our institutions trustees.  It may be early, but can you say Bart Barber for SBC President in 2020?  We need to make this happen.  Integrity and character matter in our leaders and Bart showed himself to be a man of immense integrity and sterling character and gave us an appropriate ending to the business proceedings of our convention.
  9. I’m thankful the drama was at a minimum–There were some tense moments, but social media overhyped everything prior to the meeting.  I am thankful the drama was kept to a minimum and the spirit of unity pervaded our deliberations.  There will always be grown men who act foolish both behind the scenes and at the microphones, but thankfully, those instances, at least at the microphones, were kept to a minimum.
  10. I got to meet William Thornton–I’m thankful I got to meet one of my favorite blog writers, and Voices realist on all things SBC, William Thornton.  I really was in awe of the man, the myth, the legend.  In all seriousness, I am thankful for Dave Miller, Brent Hobbs, Jay Adkins, Scott Gordon and others who made this new contributor feel welcome.

There’s much work to be done, but I encourage all of us to step back and thank God for our blessings.  god has lavished His grace on our convention, and we move forward in a spirit of humility and thankfulness.  To God be the glory.

SBC 2018–Thankful

This post was originally posted at hiswordhisglory.wordpress.com

I am a proud Southern Baptist and have spent the last 3 days at our annual meeting.  There’s been plenty of negativity surrounding our annual meeting, but I’m going to stick those aspects of the annual meeting for which I am thankful.  Here are my top ten reasons to be thankful for SBC2018

  1. We continue our belief in the inerrancy of scripture–There was no debate over Biblical interpretation, and there was nothing done that moved us towards a more liberal theology.  while other denominations continue their liberal slide, we stand firmly rooted in the Word of God.
  2. We saw a generational leadership change–I believe we saw the beginnings of a generational leadership change which was overwhelmingly supported by the messengers.  The election of JD Grear as our president, the restoration of Mr. Anderson to the board of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, and the refusal to dismiss the executive committee of the board of trustees of SWBTS were all votes that fell along generational lines.  What I mean by generational lines is that votes to dismiss Mr. Anderson, and dismiss the executive committee of the SWBTS trustees seem to come from older messengers.  I am thankful there were plenty of older messengers who restored Mr. Anderson and defeated the SWBTS trustees motion.  I do believe this was the beginning of a generational leadership change.
  3. My parents and in-laws kept our children–I am grateful that our parents, all four of them, kept our children, giving my wife and I some needed time to ourselves.
  4. I’m thankful for Mike Pence–No, I did not hear his speech, and I do not think he should have been allowed to address our meeting, but what’s done is done, and I am thankful we have a man of faith in his position.
  5. I’m thankful for JD Greear–I believe JD Greear will be a great president for our convention.  I have nothing but respect for Ken Hemphill, and the work he has done on behalf of Southern Baptists, but I’m thankful JD Greear was elected by an overwhelming majority.
  6. I’m thankful I got to spend time with my wife–My wife and I are annual meeting geeks.  We go every year and plan to continue going as long as we can.  I love spending time alone with my wife.  We saw an old friend of mine at the convention and he said we should rethink our definition of vacation, but we love Southern Baptists and we love spending time together.  The annual meeting is our definition of a vacation.  The only request I have is that we have a convention on the beach sometime in the future.
  7. I’m thankful for the works MBTS is doing–We went to the “For the Church” luncheon and the “Midwestern Seminary Friends and Alumni” luncheon.  In both luncheons we heard about the incredible work Midwestern is doing, and we also heard men of character stand strong in their beliefs.  I’m sure the other seminaries are excellent, but if I had to recommend a seminary, MBTS would be at the top of my list.  They are strengthening our local churches.
  8. I’m thankful for Bart Barber–I didn’t think anyone could steal MVP of the convention from the red-haired boy who made the motion Tuesday afternoon, but Bart Barber showed everyone why we call the governing bodies of our institutions trustees.  It may be early, but can you say Bart Barber for SBC President in 2020?  We need to make this happen.  Integrity and character matter in our leaders and Bart showed himself to be a man of immense integrity and sterling character and gave us an appropriate ending to the business proceedings of our convention.
  9. I’m thankful the drama was at a minimum–There were some tense moments, but social media overhyped everything prior to the meeting.  I am thankful the drama was kept to a minimum and the spirit of unity pervaded our deliberations.  There will always be grown men who act foolish both behind the scenes and at the microphones, but thankfully, those instances, at least at the microphones, were kept to a minimum.
  10. I got to meet William Thornton–I’m thankful I got to meet one of my favorite blog writers, and Voices realist on all things SBC, William Thornton.  I really was in awe of the man, the myth, the legend.  In all seriousness, I am thankful for Dave Miller, Brent Hobbs, Jay Adkins, Scott Gordon and others who made this new contributor feel welcome.

There’s much work to be done, but I encourage all of us to step back and thank God for our blessings.  god has lavished His grace on our convention, and we move forward in a spirit of humility and thankfulness.  To God be the glory.