Politics Over Gospel (Some Thoughts on the SBC 2018 Annual Meeting)
As I write this post, the Southern Baptist Convention is continuing their annual meeting in Dallas Texas. The last two days have been filled with victories and controversies. J.D. Greear was elected overwhelmingly to be the new President of the Southern Baptist Convention which I would view as a huge victory for reorienting this denomination toward a mission focused strategy of ministry. Yet, other moments have left me embarrassed and nervous about the trajectory of the denomination.
Every year the SBC annual meeting begins with a politically charged half hour of singing the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and other acts of patriotism. These are not wrong things to do as a citizen of the United States (or which ever country any Christian would find themselves in), but as a group of believers coming together to make spiritual decisions regarding the future of the convention, it sets a terrible precedent. The entire annual meeting then lies under the shadow of the opening worship service to the United States of America. I know many will probably disagree with that thought, but I think Ephesians clearly teaches that our citizenship is in heaven and that we are just sojourners on this earth. It means that we are not to get bogged down with the cares and politics of our nation so much so that they distract us from the mission, but such a large amount of time being designated to lifting up the U.S.A. flies in the face of this teaching.
As I said, this happens every year. But what made this year different is that this political vigor did not stop at the opening ceremony, rather it continued through the announcement that Vice President Mike Pence would be speaking on Wednesday morning. The SBC has had many proponents come forward and say that the convention is not a Republican convention, but a Christian convention. All of them were silenced by this news. I do not wish to argue the politics of this current administration, but I will just say that many view it as being racist, mysoginist, and just downright unloving. Vice Present Pence, whom I gladly believe to be a born again Christian, has unfortunately been a part of these controversial actions and statements through his silence.
Not only was he invited, but when it became clear that some were offended by his invitation, the leadership stuck to their guns. The charge to have a sermon of unity or a time of prayer replace the political speech by VP Pence was lead by Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church of Alexandria, VA, this was quickly defeated. Several other attempts were made and some were not even given a thought before a resounding “no” came from the podium.
While many could still take this as a politics over gospel move. I did have some hope that perhaps VP Pence would stick to the message of the gospel and the reconciliation that it brings. That is not what he did. Instead, he gave his best President Trump impression with similar rhetoric which including praising how “great" this administration has been over its first 500 days, walking through the successes of recent days, and concluded with Trump’s line “make America great again.”
Make no mistake it was a political rally. There were whoops and hollers at the moments one would expect at a typical Trump rally. As an example, when VP Pence said “we will wipe (Isis) from the face of the earth” a group of Baptist believers applauded. Think about that. A few moments before they talked about reaching radical muslims with the Gospel and then minutes later praised their deaths. How does this make sense? There were too many moments of compromise like this to write about. The speech was a campaign rally for Donald Trump, not an uplifting message of the Gospel.
This shows a clear bias of the SBC leadership toward politics and specifically the controversial politics of the current Republican administration. Now, I am hoping that this will change with the leadership of J.D. Geear. I say hope because I do not know. I do know that J.D. is not satisfied with what occurred today, he tweeted, “I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.” But I am left wondering whether he can make effective change away from politics and toward the Gospel. Or will the established politically charged leadership be too powerful for him and others to overcome? Only God knows whether he can make that change, but I am glad to know that he will try.
Some might be wondering why I am writing this post at all. As a church planter pursuing partnership with the North American Mission Board of the SBC I am personally invested in the future and trajectory of this denomination. Unfortunately, I am now left with questions of how I, a church planter in Canada, am supposed to think of the political fervor and “Amercia First” attitude of this denomination. How can I honestly say that the denomination that I have ties with does not have political agendas, but are Gospel focused and mission minded when they praise the Red, White, and Blue so aggressively? I’m not sure. I will have to think about this. My hope is that this stands as an example of what happens when you place priority on politics rather than on the Gospel. It can happen in the States and it can happen in Canada.