18 June 2021

SBC 2021: The State of Our Cooperation

If you know me, you know that I am an optimist and by default give people the benefit of the doubt. I prefer to assume people who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior intend well and act with conviction, even if I might disagree with their ideas or opinions. I attempt to trust people at their word until they prove to be untrustworthy. I want to trust those with whom I cooperate. I want to be confident that the dollars our congregation sends to do this cooperation is well stewarded and tethered securely to sound doctrine and practice.

A lack of trust has been the big problem in our SBC for the last two years. Situations have arisen and the relentless Twitter wars have steadily eroded trust, particularly with immediate past Executive Committee (EC) and the proper handling of sexual abuse cases, with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission's (ERLC) leadership and focus, with a couple of our seminaries on the issue of Critical Race Theory (CRT), with the operations of North American Mission Board (NAMB), and with the issue of women pastors/preachers.  

I suppose the convention could have turned out to be worse. But to say that over 15,000 messengers left Nashville united would only be an aspiration, not the reality. In the highly anticipated presidential election, with four candidates, the eventual winner of the run off only won by a 52% to 48% margin, only 556 votes.  And leading up to that was a two-day smear campaign aimed at Mike Stone, the eventual runner up. Meanwhile, high-profile, CP salaried individuals made public endorsements for the eventual winner. In my opinion, many who wanted to vote for Mike Stone were dissuaded at the eleventh hour due to the negative cloud put on him by some so obviously, publicly and loudly opposed to him. 

Why is the presidential election so important for Southern Baptists? It's because the president has a certain power of appointment.  He appoints the members of the Committee on Committees, which in turn serves to nominate many other positions on boards and agencies of the convention. It matters and makes a difference.

Here are some of the bigger issues we had as Southern Baptists going into the convention and what transpired during our meeting in Nashville.

1. The Executive Committee and allegations of mishandling reports of sexual abuse issues.

This must have been the most confusing issue for the average Southern Baptist. Allegations by survivors that their reports of sexual abuse not being heard and dealt with appropriately, denial of wrongdoing by the EC, and leaked letters and recordings have combined to add up to one thing - total confusion of issues and happenings for most. Of the 15,726 messengers present, only a handful of people know the truth, the rest of us would like to know so problems can be remedied and people be exonerated or held accountable. It's sad that this situation could not be remedied in house. But by the time Southern Baptists convened in Nashville, there was no choice but a third party investigation.  Certainly, this is to our shame (1 Cor. 6).

The end result was the beginning process of an outside organization being hired to investigate the immediate past EC, which will be handled by a special task force group, hand picked and appointed by the new convention president, Ed Litton.  

PRAY that as a task force is appointed by our new convention president that the right people will serve without partiality. This task force will be the liaison with Guidepost Solutions who will conduct the review.

2. The Ethic and Religious Liberty Commission

The ERLC drama has been extensive and going on since 2016. Russell Moore, who had led as president of this agency for the past eight years, resigned just prior to the meeting in Nashville. He had been under increasing criticism from many for matters to which he had spoken out about, and for matters that he had remained curiously silent about. His story intersects with the controversy surrounding the immediately past EC on matters of the handling of reports of sexual abuse. Most likely, he is the one who leaked letters criticizing the EC, which ultimately made the final push for a third party investigation.

PRAY that the board of trustees for NAMB will find that right man to lead the ERLC - one who will be a bridge builder and restore confidence in the work of the ERLC.

3. Critical Race Theory

Certainly CRT was a concern to many since the passing of Resolution 9 in 2019.  Messengers submitted several resolutions on CRT for the Committee on Resolutions to consider. I submitted one such - here. Another was submitted by over 1,300 different people (a strategic move by a newly formed network of Southern Baptists called the Conservative Baptist Network) - here. And there were others. However, the Committee on Resolutions, chaired by James Merritt, chose not explicitly to address CRT. Instead, the committee brought to the messengers a good, but vague resolution to avoid the controversy of addressing CRT explicitly. When messengers went to the mic, James Merritt regrettably used tactics to shame and demean anyone who had an issue with the weakness of the resolution or wished to propose an amendment. It was obvious that he had no intention of listening to the messengers that he represented. I was standing at a mic myself, but was never called on. This was not one of the good moments of this year's convention. 

The resolution adopted will do nothing to settle the issue. I was very encouraged; however, during the seminary presidents reports. I was deeply pleased with the overall resolve of the presidents, but mostly with Dr. Adam Greenway of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Time will only tell if CRT rhetoric that was coming out of Southern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary will cease or be embolden from the inaction taken in Nashville.

PRAY for our seminary leaders as they choose and oversee faculty. Their responsibility is great. Pray that they will indeed steer a clear and bold course that will not begin to embrace, teach, or speak the rhetoric of the ideology that underpins CRT.  

4. The North American Mission Board

NAMB has been under fire for sometime now for a couple of significant issues that still have not been resolved. I believe that these will still be points of contention as we move forward. There have been concerns over an apparent lack of clarity and practice in church plants regarding women pastors. There has also been tension regarding NAMB's church planting cooperation with state conventions and the use of resources. There have been questions regarding the fiscal responsibility of NAMB. Randy Adams, Executive Director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, who also ran for convention president, campaigned on these alleged issues with NAMB. 

As NAMB continues to have a singular focus on church planting in large urban areas, the line between contextualizing and compromise may continue to be blurry. Many Southern Baptists are increasingly growing uncomfortable with what they are observing in some instances. And I don't expect the calls to cease for better accountability and transparency regarding how CP money is being used by NAMB. Just as the EC is having to undergo an investigation to rebuild trust in our convention system, NAMB needs to be more forthright with monetary spending, if it too wants to strengthen its trust with many Southern Baptists. 

PRAY for Kevin Ezell, President of NAMB. Pray that he will have wisdom and discernment concerning how proactively to build trust with many Southern Baptists. Pray that NAMB's church planting work in large cities will be distinguished by a solid commitment to biblical doctrine and practice.   

5. Women pastors/preachers

The topic of women pastors and women preaching was subject of interest in the last couple of years around our convention. Why? Beth Moore, who has now officially exited SBC life, was the focal point. Why? Because she was increasingly preaching to whole congregations on the Lord's Day in Southern Baptist churches. Some argued that she was a guest and not the pastor, which is true, of course. However, one has to ask the following question: Even so, is she not still picking up the task of the pastor? Her ministry was morphing into something that many felt was beginning to blur the line between a pastor's role and function. 

Additionally, as mentioned above, women began to be observed on websites of NAMB sponsored church plants with the title of "pastor." In the 2020 Pastor's Conference, which did not happen because of the pandemic, a woman, who was listed as a pastor in her church, was scheduled to speak. This issue has been simmering for some time, yet it was not a subject picked up by the messengers during the convention.

PRAY that our seminaries and institutions will continue to be faithful to biblical teachings regarding gender roles and that we will be clear and consistent in our message and practice.

Major Negative Takeaways

We are not united, even if the voices on the stage claim that we are. There are important convictions and matters that are pulling us in different directions. Issues related to CRT and women pastors are not going away. And there is much trust to be rebuilt. 

A significant dissatisfaction with NAMB is not going away and the call for more accountability and transparency will persist.

The problem of dealing with sexual abuse and misconduct claims will continue to be a matter that Southern Baptists are going to have to solve. There is much confusion regarding what constitutes abuse and who is to be held responsible. In reality, it is the local church or institution that must deal appropriately with any knowledge of sexual misconduct or abuse within their own congregation or organization. Ultimately, it's not the responsibility of the EC. This year our EC, on behalf of the churches, did vote that two churches who had not handled matters related to sexual misconduct/abuse not to be in friendly cooperation. (i.e. removed them as Southern Baptist churches) - see New York Times article. This is really all the EC can do on behalf of all of us who elect them to this position of responsibility. 

Major Positive Takeaways

A lot of messengers showed up in the room! Over 15,000 of them.  The most in 25 years. More participation is always better. It was encouraging to see many, many adults younger than myself.

The International Mission Board under the leadership of Dr. Paul Chitwood has been reinvigorated and revitalized. We celebrated the sending of 64 new missionaries during the Send Conference. Every Southern Baptist should be encouraged! This is what has been at the core of being Southern Baptist for 175 years - sending missionaries together to the nations.

God has blessed Southern Baptists. As major mainline denominations have continued to drift significantly into biblical infidelity and an embracing of worldly ideologies, the SBC continues strongly to protect our shared commitment to the Bible. Even the fact that we are having some tensions about CRT and women pastors is evidence of that commitment. Only God knows how these matters will ultimately play out in the next few years. But one thing is obvious to me after leaving Nashville. If many Southern Baptists at large had fallen asleep below deck on our journey together, they're wide awake now and on the deck asking important questions about our course ahead. Those steering are now having to answer. This is a good thing. Be encouraged. 

13 May 2021

Your Biblical Fragility May be Showing

The inertia of the critical social justice movement is undeniable. It has moved from obscure legal essays written by academicians to academicians to permeate practically every aspect of public life. 

Everywhere it seems that everyone has been falling over each other in a mad rush to make sure that they are perceived as being on the "right side of history." Professional sports are all in, the NCAA is all in, Netflix is all in, higher education is all in (actually has been for some time), most big retail businesses are all in, and your local public school counselors are probably all in. It's now become a liability to stay quiet. You need a hashtag, slogan, seal, or bumper sticker to make sure everyone knows you are antiracist, pro-feminists, and pro-LGBTQ.

The high-profile, Christian leaders are not exempt from this pressure. In my little corner of evangelicalism (Southern Baptist) the ideology behind the critical social justice movement didn't come to the forefront for most of us until we began paying attention to the fallout after the passing of Resolution 9 at the 2019 annul Southern Baptist Convention in Birmingham, AL. However, the rumblings over this so-called "social justice" that was beginning to impact evangelicalism was expressed in the earlier 2018 "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" (a.k.a Dallas Statement). Many well-known American evangelicals were curiously quiet and refused to sign (even in my own SBC), leaving John MacArthur and and handful of other notables to the fate of their self-inflicted poor optics on matters of race.

But after the highly emotional George Floyd incident, white evangelicals scrambled to make sure they were counted present on the front lines of the social justice movement by making apologies for their "whiteness" and "white privilege" and participating in public laments. And as Black Lives Matter appeared on signs among protestors and painted on city streets, white evangelicals did the dance to embrace loudly the words while quietly equivocating on the actual organization's full vision. Many white evangelicals were mostly concerned that they be not accused of displaying their "white fragility" which they had learned is just a coping mechanism for their own racist subconscious and their unwitting complicity in racist structures. They dare not ask any questions or raise any issues that could be interpreted as racist, proving their inability to talk about race in the right way.

Now, here we are. It seems that we have now drawn up our lines. There are those who are attempting to embrace the critical social movement and its rhetoric in one hand and hold their Bibles in the other hand. And, there are those who are holding on to their Bibles with both hands and saying no thank you to the critical social justice movement and its increasingly popular ideology called Critical Race Theory. CRT defenders see it has a helpful analytical tool from the social sciences to lay beside their Bibles to help facilitate the right conversations to move us more rapidly to racial equality in our society. CRT critics see it as a pernicious ideology with tenets that undermine and contest biblically informed views about humanity, sin and the gospel.

I've been exploring this subject, reading the founding proponents of CRT, evangelicals who are embracing its tenets, and evangelicals who are resisting it. I've concluded that our differences come down to something simple - the Bible. For those of my white and black brothers who have fallen in step with the surge of social justice scholarship, rhetoric, virtue signaling, and ideology, I want to give you a warning. Your biblical fragility may be showing.

I'm not saying those given to the critical social justice movement think the Bible is unimportant. Those among conservative evangelicals certainly hold the Bible in high esteem, and at least in theory, as the place of prominence. Yet every time Bible-believing people push back on the notion that CRT challenges biblical sufficiency, I believe their biblical fragility is showing.

After nearly two years of reading, listening, reflecting, and seeking to understand the issues embedded in our current tension about these matters, I have reached some conclusions that I want to share with my fellow Southern Baptist brothers and sisters. This is not exhaustive, just some of my current reflections on these matters at this time. My attempt to dial in a biblically faithful and reasonable view on these issues, I admit freely, is a work in progress. But, here goes.

If you actually feel guilty for systemic racism and feel the personal need to be apologetic or lament, then your biblical fragility is showing.

Having an awareness of the past injustices, violence, and racism of our American history is important. History neither should be whitewashed clean by national hubris, nor should the present generation be pronounced guilty for the sins of the fathers.

This question is answered clearly in Ezekiel 18:20. The Lord declares, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."

We find in Exodus 20, and echoed in other places, content that would at first appear contradictory. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me" (Ex. 20:4-5). 

Traditionally, these have been interpreted as pointing us to two biblical truths. The sins of our fathers do have consequences that reach into subsequent generations. This is part of our shared humanity and corporate reality. What I do in the present, can affect others to lesser or greater degrees now and into the future. However, I am not personally guilty of my forbears' sins. I can regret the sins committed in the past and understand the corporate need to make apology (e.g. 1995 SBC resolution). For example, Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel repented of personal sin, but also acknowledged the sins of their people, which had led to God's judgment of their nation. But personally to apologize for a current, shocking incident simply because it has become viral due to the news media and social media is another thing altogether. We should feel sorrow for such incidents, but we should not feel compelled to internalize and express guilt simply because we feel the pressure to be apologetic for all white people. And, we see people doing this in a knee-jerk fashion. Before the details are verified, before an investigation is done, before all the facts are known, we are pushed to jump to conclusions, most of all that such a tragedy was motivated by racial hostility. How absurd. How unbiblical. This takes me to the next sign.

If you find your first instinct is to virtue signal on Twitter whenever social justice rhetoric is hot, then your biblical fragility is showing.

For me, this has been the most telling evidence of biblical fragility among some of my brothers and sisters. To suggest that we wait for due process has become tantamount to being racist. Many have succumbed to the pressure to say something to affirm the narrative that pivots on race, before anyone really knows all the facts. This is foolish.

The Bible compels us to patience and prudence, while the social justice warriors are screaming for justice for (insert name) immediately and rioting, what they are truly after is vengeance. How can I say this? Because they have already made up their mind as to what has happened, why it happened, and who needs to be punished and how. They are not willing to wait for justice. And even when the process of justice has been administered and the result is something other than their pre-determined, desired outcome, then it's only more evidence of their claim of ongoing systemic racism.

But the Bible gives us this wisdom, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him"(Prov. 18:17). Our biblical concern for justice rests on process, not outcomes. Scripture tells us that God's plumb line of justice is about adequate attestation to the offense and a balanced scale of justice that shows no partiality.

If you find yourself supporting or promoting Black Lives Matters, then your biblical fragility is showing.

BLM started in 2013 as a reaction to the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, but really gained traction with the reaction to the death of Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter took off and quickly becoming a mantra and movement that has now brought in millions of dollars in donations for the cause of fighting systemic racism in America. Many Christians have uncritically adopted the hashtag and the ideology of BLM.

Any Christian who endorses or refuses to be critical of BLM is either ignorant of just scared to do so. You can go to their own website here, and read for yourself. What you will not find is any concern for black on black crime. The truth of the matter is that most homicides are intraracial. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, in 2019, 88% of whites were killed by other whites and 80% of blacks were killed by other blacks, with the per-capita offending rate six times higher for blacks than whites. BLM pretends that this reality doesn't exist, and instead continues to perpetrate that there is an epidemic of white violence against blacks in our country. That simply doesn't square with the facts. Additionally, BLM supports "Black queer and trans folks" and "all Blacks that live along the gender spectrum."

If you have uncritically embraced the social science (CRT), or give a pass to those who do, then your biblical fragility is showing.

CRT is now the proverbial tail wagging the dog for many evangelicals. We have a problem for the self-professed biblically-driven Christian who is speaking the rhetoric of CRT and moving social justice to the seat of prominence.

Supporters will argue that CRT is just a tool, not an overarching worldview. I would agree. I don't think CRT is what we would technically view as a worldview. Its view is limited to the American experience. However, it has driving presuppositions, and tenets from which it operates that constitute a fixed ideology that is comparable to a worldview. Therefore, CRT is not merely a tool, as some would lead you to believe.

If your church's ministry has now become focused on being antiracist or providing safe spaces for blacks, then the gospel itself is being downgraded. The modern critical social justice movement, like the old social gospel movement and liberation theology movements displace the gospel of Jesus with activism. It takes the focus off the call to personal repentance and faith and puts it on social transformation through activism. Sin is now in society and systems, not individuals. Salvation is now is overturning perceived oppression (whatever that means), not the transformation of the human heart through repentance of personal sin and faith in Christ.

Now, I know what your thinking. Can't the church and individual Christians be concerned with both? And the answer is absolutely yes! However, its a matter of priority. For those who have drunk deeply from liberation theology and CRT, the gospel in all practically has become activism itself. Jesus was the model revolutionary and that is what Christians are called to do. Everything is about power, race and white hegemony. The Christian is called to tear down the white supremacy, not to proclaim a crucified, buried and resurrection Christ who, when we repent and believe, makes us a new creature, and he tears down the walls of hostility. "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility"(Eph. 2:14). Racial harmony is what the gospel can accomplish, it is neither the gospel itself or the main goal of the gospel.

However, the congregations who have the biblical gospel of Christ, must also be concerned with trying to reach all people in their community. And churches should be concerned where true inequity in opportunity or treatment is found. Christians have done this is the past, and we must continue to do so. Our society will always be flawed, and Christians should be concerned with needed reforms that address racial inequity, attempting to get at the true causes and offer appropriate solutions.

These are confusing and contentious times among evangelicals. I work at trying to understand competing views, and I admit that the learning never really ends. There is always something else to peel back and consider. Matters are always more complex than we tend to think. But at the same time, the more I look into these matters of social justice, the more clarity I am getting about the key differences. And it really isn't that complicated.

The Christian faith is about the good news of Jesus crucified, buried and resurrected to provide forgiveness of sin and to make spiritually dead people alive. This transformation causes us to be salt and light in our culture so that others can be pointed to the truth of the gospel. We know that God commands us to love him and to love our neighbors without qualification. We know that God desires impartiality and equal balances in matters of justice.

But I can't know any of the above with clarity and certainty without the Bible. Without it, I am left to the opinions of mere men. If I don't firmly believe the Bible to be inerrant and sufficient, then I'm ripe to have my faith hijacked by ideologies that shift my focus from a thoroughly working biblical Christianity to a biblical cherry-picking, culturally-driven, issue-oriented expression of my Christian faith. This can happen with a heart sincerely motivated by compassion and for a sense of justice, but a mind that loosens itself from a commitment to the Bible's sufficiency.

I want to prepare my heart for the annual meeting of the SBC next month. I will be praying for a spirit-filled time that brings clarity to these issues with charity. But I do not want my convention of churches to compromise truth for a facade of unity. For the last two years pressing issues have been simmering among us and there needs to be a reckoning in Nashville. Those who find themselves in leadership at this time need courage and compassion. They need to seek to please God and not men. They need to count the cost of biblical fidelity. They need to listen to the churches' messengers. They need to be prayerful and Holy Spirit led. I am praying for those who are leading and for those of us attending. My hope is that when I depart on June 16, that my heart will be soaring with joy and confidence that our churches showed biblical integrity in our decisions and resolutions and no hint of biblical fragility was to be found.

05 May 2021

A Resolution for SBC 2021



Resolution on Racism, Critical Race 

Theory and the Sufficiency of Scripture


WHEREAS, Southern Baptists define themselves in the BFM 2000 as people who believe with sincere conviction that the Bible is “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter,” and

 

WHEREAS, the BFM 2000 confesses that since the Bible is inerrant, then it follows that the Bible is “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried” and

 

WHEREAS, messengers to Southern Baptist annual conventions have denounced racism in all its forms numerous times, and

 

WHEREAS the ideologies that have shaped Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a discipline have been that of secular critical legal studies and radical feminism[1], and

 

WHEREAS CRT’s governing ideological dynamic is a Marxist-like worldview that uses race as the “theoretical fulcrum”[2] to explain inequities of power and wealth in America, and 

 

WHEREAS, CRT asserts that “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society”[3], and

 

WHEREAS, according to its own scholarship, racism in our culture is a hopelessly fixed reality, permanent and indestructible in people and structures, with no accounting for the hope of the gospel that brings personal transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit, including the power of the believer to forgive, and

 

WHEREAS the draw on some to embrace CRT scholarship as a helpful sociological tool is recognized as a sincere attempt by some to address the issue of racism in our past, to move forward with better insight, and to recognize how racism is embedded in certain societal constructs, and  

 

WHEREAS regardless of such sincerity, the employing of CRT scholarship in our seminaries will not only possibly conflate the gospel with critical social justice, but also likely place the churches and their institutions on a path of biblical infidelity in regard to gender roles and issues regarding sexuality because of the deconstructive premises of Critical Theory that reduces people to groups of oppressors and oppressed, let it, therefore, be

 

RESOLVED, that the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15-16, 2021 renounce all forms of racism and continue to be committed to further and greater progression of racial unity and diversity within our churches and denominational agencies and institutions, and be it

 

RESOLVED, that we contend consistently and vigorously for the concepts of true, biblical justice, namely that all people are created in the image of God and possess dignity and worth, that all people should be treated justly and equally, that our society should use equal balances for all people, that all people be held to the same standards of integrity, that all people be presumed innocent with the burden of proof on the accusers, that justice be about a fair and equal process and not about outcomes, that no partiality be shown, and that we call out true injustice and inequality when we clearly see such in opposition to these biblical truths, and be it

 

Gen. 1:26,27; Ex. 20:16; Lev. 19:15-18; Deut. 19:15; Prov. 18:17; Prov. 11:1; Isa. 1:16-17; Mark 12:28-31; James 2:8,9 

 

RESOLVED, that this convention’s repudiation of CRT need neither be inferred as a denial of the evil of racism historically and currently in our country nor as a position that is attempting to mask racist views, and be it

 

RESOLVED, that without equivocation that the Bible is both inerrant and completely sufficient in precept and principle for every matter related to Christian doctrine and practice, including, but not limited to, issues of race, gender and sexuality, and be it finally

 

RESOLVED, that Southern Baptist churches, seminaries and entities repudiate employing CRT scholarship as a helpful, sociological tool congruent with biblical Christianity because it is rooted in ideas antithetical to biblical content that ultimately undermine Scripture, and that Southern Baptists faithfully instill in the next generation an unwavering commitment to calling out and combating racism where it exists and to the sufficiency of the Bible alone as our guide to engage issues regarding, but not limited to, race, gender and sexuality. 



    [1] Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 5.

 

      [2] From the introduction of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings from the Movement, edited by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw, et. al. (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1995), xxv.

 

      [3] Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well (New York: Basic Books, 1992), xxi.

25 April 2021

Jemar Tisby's The Color of Compromise

Jemar Tisby's The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism, is his 2019 work that preceded his How to Fight Racism. Primarily, this work is a historical survey of colonial and national history of the United States told through the singular lens of racism. Tisby acknowledges that such a brief and focused overview by necessity leaves much out. The book is well written and documented. He covers four hundred years of history in 116 pages, which is quite the challenge. He takes us from colonial slavery to the current Black Lives Matter movement, with examples of how the white church has been complicit to racism's continued impact at every turn. He contends that white Christians in general have consistently fumbled every opportunity to be antiracist.

Tisby's thesis is two-fold. First he believes it is evident that the white church has historically always been complicit to racism in America. Second, he states repeatedly that racism never goes away, it just adapts, reminiscent of Derrick Bell's insistence that racism in America is integral, permanent and indestructible. And with the evidence that he cites, he makes a rather convincing argument. There is a plethora of examples from American history to demonstrate the reality of racism that was openly brutal, codified in law, catalyst for mob violence, and which perpetuated degrading stereotypes and hostility. It is a deeply lamentable part of the reality of our American history. I think that Tisby adequately demonstrates that a great number of self-professing Christians in American history were clearly complicit to racist acts and policies. But at the same time, his 30,000 foot overview of our history seems to disprove the second part of his thesis, on which so much depends.

By the time his historical survey looks into the last 50 years of American history, this idea that racism never goes away becomes more challenging for him to demonstrate. Tisby writes, "Since the 1970s, Christian complicity in racism has become more difficult to discern. It is hidden, but that does not mean it no longer exists"(155). And again, he reminds us at the end of that paragraph, "Again, we must remember: racism never goes away; it adapts." The problem with this claim is its absolute nature. It is one thing, and reasonable, to show how this has happened. It is something altogether different to assert that it is an immutable, sociological axiom of American culture.  

I was struck by how Tisby's overview of the intersection of American history and racism toward blacks actually evidences that racism has dramatically diminished in every way and one could argue is going away. Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, legalized segregation, redlining - all gone. Sure, one will still find individuals and fringe groups that still imbibe racist views, but the institutionalized racism that is so central to our history and to the modern critical social justice movement is gone. However, that does not mean that the effects of past institutionalized racism are not present. I believe that is an important distinction.

Again, this book doesn't claim to be a deep dive into history, so I can't fault it for not doing what its not claiming to do. However, even in the format of a short survey, I still can observe some critical omissions, oversimplifications, and one unfortunate stretch in the cause of supporting his narrative.

Tisby discusses the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner during the Antebellum period. He describes Turner as a "deeply committed Christian"(65) who led others to commit mass murder of white people with him in an act of vengeance. Yet he is critical of Charles Finney, who he admits led the first institution of higher learning that admitted women and blacks. Instead of celebrating the groundbreaking and courageous things Finney did, Tisby essentially criticizes him for not being antiracist enough while giving Turner a pass on murder.

In the Civil War era, Tisby focuses on the division of denominations North and South over the strong disagreements about slavery. He focuses on how some white Christians used the Bible to justify slavery in the South, but not so much on white abolitionists who pressed the issue of ending slavery. Here is an example of omission. Tisby is not wrong about how some Christian leaders used terrible interpretations to justify their racist views. However, he does not give proper historical diligence to those white Christian voices who advocated for abolition, such as Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, Benjamin Rush, and Moses Brown. See here.

An easy fact he could have included in his chapter on the Jim Crow era is that whites were lynched in mob violence along with blacks. According to research done by The University of Missouri-Kansas Law School, between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched and 1,297 whites. Tisby definitely leaves his reader; however, with the impression that lynchings during the time period were exclusively perpetrated on blacks.

Because Martin Luther King, Jr. and Billy Graham were contemporary, Tisby is compelled to contrast them, with the apparent objective to convince his reader that Graham is another example of white Christian's complicity to American racism. Although Tisby reports the facts that in the 1950's Graham would not follow the common segregating practices of the time, and he approved of and encouraged others to support and obey the Brown v. Board decision, he was still not antiracist enough. Tisby writes, "During the civil rights movement, activists who courageously risked their well-being for black freedom were few and far between, but Christian moderates who were complicit with the status quo of institutional racism were numerous"(135). It's reasonable to accept this as true. But Graham, in Tisby's view, is guilty of complicity as a Christian moderate because, in his opinion, he did not do enough. This is a great example that if one is not deemed antiracist, then one is essentially cast as racist. Although any reasonable take on Graham evidences just the opposite.

And example of oversimplification comes in the chapter devoted to complicity of white evangelicals during the political and social conservative resurgence during the 1980's. Here Tisby reduces this movement to "law and order politics", which was just another adaptation of racism in America, beginning with Richard Nixon. As the conservative Republican Party emerged, especially with Ronald Reagan, racism transferred to political ideas, such as limited federal government, wanting to reform and curtail welfarism, and opposing communism (remember the Cold War?). Tisby downplays antecedents to the conservative turn in the 80s, such as legalized abortion on demand, the sexual revolution, the drug culture, feminism, and the push for LGBTQ rights. Tisby ignores these as red herrings, and implies everything was truly about race. And, although he has to concede that Reagan was no racist, and actually did good things regarding racial inclusion and recognition, he still concludes, "but overall Reagan's advocacy of black civil rights was less than enthusiastic." And since conservative Christians of the time sided with Reagan politically, they too became complicit to his inadequate antiracist performance. Tisby writes, "Whatever their intentions, when the Religious Right signed up to support Ronald Reagan and his views, they were also tacitly endorsing an administration that refused to take strong stances toward dismantling racism. Here we see further complicity with institutional racism as conservative Christians chose to support certain elements of the modern Republican platform"(169-70).

In the last historical chapter, he address our current discussions around Black Lives Matter. In this chapter he has to concede that much progress has been made. He opens the chapter by referencing the 1995 Southern Baptist resolution adopted which apologized for the denominations racist past and pledged itself to be antiracist before antiracist was in vogue. Tisby admits, "In ages past such words of racial equality would have engulfed entire congregations in controversy"(172). The point is in fact that it didn't! It was celebrated! He cites other significant events of racial reconciliation and unity and the election of our first black president. But at every turn, Tisby appears to include positive facts reluctantly, in my opinion. Why? Because it mitigates against his Derrick Bell inspired theses that racism is permanent.

He discusses Black Lives Matter organization, but brushes aside the issues that many Christians have with the organization. He admits "opinions about the organization vary widely"(180). That's an understatement. Many Christians absolutely cannot get on board with an organization that conflates their advocacy for racial justice with the LGBTQ agenda. BLM states on their website, "We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum." See here.

Tisby writes about the more recent, highly publicized killing of black individuals, particularly by white police officers. He mentions a dozen by name as proof that, "Activists have deployed the phrase black lives matter because the cascade of killings indicated that black lives did not, in fact, matter"(179). Cascade? Again, we see the implication that America has a current epidemic of white police officers abusing their power and killing black people with racist motives. But is this true? 

The numbers tell a disturbing story. A good number of people are being killed by police officers each year. Of course, they are not exclusively black. In raw numbers, more whites die each year. However, proportionally the rate is twice as high for blacks as whites, and Hispanics are higher than whites but not quite as high as blacks.  See here. So, yes there is a correlation of race and police shootings, but can we confidently say it is being caused by racist police officers? I don't think so. There are many variables that are potentially at play, including the fact that there is disproportionally more violent crime perpetrated by blacks. See here.  It's not so simple. Factors other than race are surely involved. If we only view such incidents through the lens of race, then every time a black person dies in a policing incident, we leap to the conclusion that it must have been motivated by race. No doubt, much attention has come to the challenging nature of the use of deadly force in the performance of their job. We can all agree that we need to have better vetting for police officers and a stronger accountability and will to get rid of those who show a history of abusing power. That will serve everyone.  

A point of agreement I have with Tisby is in his section on the election of Donald Trump. He states, "The impact of the 2016 election cannot be underestimated"(189). The candidacy of Donald Trump trapped many Christians between the ethical proverbial rock and a hard place when it came time to cast a vote, creating a great deal of discord among Christians. 

Doing history is telling a story. The better historiography is that which tells the most complete story. Most historiography that is flawed is not because of what it puts in, but for what it leaves out, consequently creating a narrative that isn't built on direct falsehoods, but suffers from incompleteness. Tisby certainly does this in this book. All of American history is simplistically viewed through the lens of racism. It become a filter that removes the complexity of people, events, movements and responses. Racism is certainly an enormous part of the American story and needs to be told with accuracy; however, by the time he moves into the last 50 years of American history his lens has to become a microscope searching for micro-aggressions.

No reasonable person can deny the universal human tendency to harbor prejudicial dispositions and that some have racially hostile attitudes. We should not discount current disproportional economic racial inequities, policing issues, or problems in public education and healthcare. However, it is difficult to point at any current institutionalized racist policies currently contributing to such matters.      

The end of this book is a preview of How to Fight Racism. In that book he simply expands what he briefly overviews in the last chapter of this book. He introduces his ARC of racial justice of antiracist measures - awareness, relationships and commitment. I'd like lastly to comment on some specific items he mentions under his thoughts about concrete actions regarding commitment. 

Reparations is an old idea. I first remember reading Dr. King's thoughts about it. I can easily follow the reasoning behind the idea. It certainly makes a certain sense. However, current black Americans, if descended from slaves, have to go back at least 156 years to the last generation of slaves to find an ancestor - roughly someone's great, great, great, great, great grandparents would be the nearest slave relative. It has been a long time. In How to Fight Racism, Tisby uses another who calculates monetary reparations to each black person descended from a former slave to be in the neighborhood of $40K-$60K. Certainly, just the amount of time that has passed makes this idea difficult, not to mention the cost alone. But I do wonder if $50K were given to each person, if it really would repair economic inequity. I'm not totally opposed to the concept, but I suspect money would not get at the heart of the brokenness in our culture, including that within the black community. And who would be next to argue that their ancestors were somehow oppressed as immigrants or exploited by industrialists, leading to their current economic inequity? Trying to implement reparations would certainly be fraught with difficulties.    

I find myself in agreement with Tisby concerning confederate monuments and the naming of buildings and schools after slave holders and slave defenders. These celebrations of individuals who held racist views are stumbling blocks. Christian love calls us to remove such things when we can. To sacrifice my freedom for love is biblical (1 Cor. 8). It is a powerful gesture to our black brothers and sisters to communicate to them that they are more important than the name on a library. This is reasonable to me both in sentiment and how easily it could be done, albeit with some predictable push back.

Under his section, "Learn from the Black Church" he encourages white Christians to value and learn from black theologians and pastors. He says, "Part of the pernicious effects of white supremacy in the church has been the devaluing of black theology - the biblical teachings that arise from and are informed by the experience of racial suffering, oppression, and perseverance by black people in America. In many white Christian contexts, theology produced by racial minorities comes with an assumption of heresy and heterodoxy"(201-202). The theology that Tisby references here is Black Liberation Theology and its founder was James Cone. Liberation theology in general is a theology built around the oppressed and oppressor social dynamic, whether that be a focus on the poor, gender or race. By its own admission, proponents use Marxism as a helpful analytical tool to bolster their theology and shift focus to activism. I personally see liberation theology in all its forms (Catholic, Protestant, Latino, white, black, feminist, or queer) as problematic biblically and theologically. See here. And although Martin Luther King Jr. is rightfully lauded as a courageous civil rights leader and powerful orator, his unorthodox theological views are well documented. Again, to have issues with a black theologian may have nothing to do with his ethnicity. I read black authors, but I am drawn to conservative writers no matter what their color. 

In the end, Tisby's message is clear. If you are a white Christian, but you are not an active antiracist, then you are complicit to the ongoing oppression of black people in America. To be antiracist, you must be reading black liberation theologians, advocating or performing reparations, forsaking theological conservatism and the Republican Party, and protesting racially-driven realities of mass incarceration, police brutality, underfunded schools, and healthcare inequality. He believes because he has described realities of racism in the past, and because he believes racism never goes away, but just adapts, that widespread, systemic racism is still oppressing blacks today.

I don't think anyone can argue with the facts that a disproportional amount of blacks in America are incarcerated, die at the hands of police, and are segregated in poorer communities with higher rates of crime. These facts alone should be cause for concern for all of us. However, to say these current conditions are being maintained by a systemic racism in the culture is less obvious. My white people come from Appalachia, where significant generational poverty and welfarism continues and prescription drug abuse in epidemic and deadly. If these people were black, I'm afraid it would be another example of assumed systemic racism. But these people are white. Are they generally dismissed, overlooked and brushed aside as unimportant? Just as much as many others, but no one would suggest it is because of their race. Why are we so quick to assume that problems that continue to plague predominantly black communities are currently being driven by racism? Again, we can continue to reform our laws, policies and practices to continue to "form a more perfect union", and we can insist on personal accountability for all Americans. The gospel of Jesus received by faith is one of humility, forgiveness, personal accountability, inclusion and loving one's enemies. The gospel of liberation theology and critical social justice tends to lean toward social revolution at best and vengeance at worst. This is not to say that blacks in America have not been victims of terrible and horrifying acts of racism. But today, can we say this? I can see problems in our black communities that are undeniable. I'm still struggling to observe how these problems can be reduced to systemic racism.

Tisby's history in the end falls short of being good history. Like any agenda-driven history, it cherry picks data and downplays evidence that would challenge his thesis. Particularly difficult for him is the undeniable progress that has been made regarding racism in America, and it is problematic for him to give convincing evidence that current issues in our society that impact the black community are being driven by racism. 

Even with this critique, I still believe that discussion about race and history is important as well as addressing matters of policing, criminal justice, drugs, welfarism, immigration, education and any other issue where we see any people struggling. Christians should advocate when we see true injustice, love our neighbors and strive more effectively to share the hope of gospel of Jesus Christ with all people in our communities.       

12 April 2021

Tisby vs. Baucham: Black Voices in Opposition

Two new books are making a stir among evangelicals right now. The only commonalities between the two is that each work is authored by a Christin black man and their topic is social justice. Other than that, one might think they live in different realities.

Jemar Tisby is the author of the How To Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice (2021). This is his follow up to his The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism (2019), which I have not read at this point. Voddie Baucham is the author of Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe (2021).

First, I commend both books to you because by placing both side-by-side, you can get a clear picture of two vastly different approaches to the intersection of Christian faith and what is commonly known as "social justice."

What I share here is just some basic takeaways in my opinion that characterize the different approaches each author brings to this discussion that involves the Bible, Christian faith, and concepts of justice and race. 

The obvious difference between Baucham and Tisby is the overall approach each brings to the discussion. Tisby's work in filled with the presuppositions, rhetoric and conclusions informed by Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Baucham's work is a complete repudiation of the tenets of CRT. However, at the same time, both authors attempt to infuse their discussion with guidance from the Bible and biblical principles.

Baucham engages CRT directly with a brief overview of its ideological roots and providing concrete definitions from proponents of CRT and its key tenets.  In Tisby's work, within his focus on how to help Christians fight racism (particularly white people), the CRT content is simply embedded and assumed. Both add some biographical content, Baucham more than Tisby.   

I suggest the following are the driving theses of the books: Baucham writes, "Our problem is a lack of clarity and charity in our debate over the place, priority, practice, and definition of justice"(5). Baucham labors in the book to bring clarity to the subject. 

For Tisby, the thesis of his work is ground in the practical. His goal is to help us all fight racism, or in the current jargon, to become antiracist, meaning to do something to fight systemic racism. He is specifically writing for a Christian audience. He will use his model - "The ARC of Racial Justice", which is an acronym for Awareness, Relationships and Commitment.  This serves as his organizational device for the book.  His thesis, I believe, is under the subheading "Courageous Christianity" in the Introduction. He simply states, "I am convinced that Christianity must be included in the fight against racism for several reasons"(8). He goes on to list three reasons. 1. Christians must respond to the past. 2. Christianity provides a transcendent narrative for racial justice's importance. 3. Christianity has the moral and spiritual resources to rebel against racism and white supremacy.

The purpose of each author

Baucham has written this book as a biblically-guided, logically- reasoned, data-driven, full frontal assault on Critical Race Theory. He wants Christians to understand CRT for what it is, where it came from, and to see its threat to the gospel. He writes,

"I wrote this book because I love God more than life, the truth more than others' opinion of me, and the Bride of Christ more than my platform. My heart is broken as I watch movements and ideologies against which I have fought and warned for decades become entrenched at the highest and most respected levels of evangelicalism. I want this book to be a clarion call. I want to unmask the ideology of Critical Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality in the hopes the those who have imbibed it can have the blinders removed from their eyes, and those have bowed in the face of it can stand up, take courage, and 'contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints'(Jude 3)"(229).

Tisby's purpose is to bring something practical to the discussion about racial justice. He states, "How to Fight Racism is one response to the how-to question of racial justice. While there has been a proliferation of books on race in the past several years, there remains room for more works the focus on the specific methods and actions the can promote racial equity. This book prioritizes the practical"(4). 

The argumentation of the authors

At the heart of Baucham's work is his argument that the antiracist movement has been and continues to infuse older and common terms with new meanings, but most perniciously it has created a new religion that many Christians are being drawn toward because it has the appearance of compassion, but actually surrenders a biblical gospel. According to Baucham, the worldview of critical social justice is set up with the cosmology of Critical Theory in general and CRT more specifically. Racism, both individual, but more importantly systemic, is the new original sin. Antiracism is the new law that must be kept. The gospel is racial reconciliation. New birth is wokeness. Atonement is made through reparations. Its liturgy is lament. Its canon is the social sciences of critical social justice. Its theologians are the Crit theorists (67). Baucham devotes several chapters to unpacking this scheme.

Tisby's concern is not to address ideological differences in the discussion of justice, but to promote activism, based on the ideologies that he takes for granted as true. Any challenges to the ideologies of CRT, which he fully employs, are brushed aside without much critical interaction. Tisby writes, "We need another generation of people willing to fight for freedom. We need a movement of people who will not back away in the face of racist evils and the lie of white supremacy"(15). Again, this advice is primarily for white people because current white people in America are responsible for racism and white supremacy of the past and its ongoing effects. He goes on to give advice on how to build awareness of issues of racism. Tisby concedes that overt expressions and demonstrations of racism are rare in America now, but  racism continues institutionalized. "White hoods and burning crosses are taboo, but instead we see poor Black and brown people shuffled into inner-city communities. Racism today comes in the form of mass incarceration and police brutality toward people of color"(31). In order to do this, he encourages us to teach what the Bible says about race and ethnicity, yet he does not specify what that is, other than the existence of various ethnicities in the Bible. He tells us to learn from theologians of color, such as James Cone, Albert Cleage Jr., Delores Wiliams, and Jacquelyn Grant. He encourages us to get over our "distrust" of liberation theology and read theology through the lens of the "disinherited." He writes, "I find it odd that some people seem more willing to learn from the theologies of slaveholders than the theologies of the enslaved and oppressed. The presumed theological and intellectual superiority of European and white sources is itself an example of white supremacy and should be confronted whenever you teach about biblical ideas of race and ethnicity"(35). 

Baucham clearly does the more thorough job of offering evidence in his work to counter the commonly-heard social justice narratives.  He gives hard data about crime, police shootings, and on other matters of social concern. He reminds me of the kind of arguments that Thomas Sowell made that drove progressives crazy. Bacucham gives examples of how certain data, which contradict widely repeated narratives of critical social justice, are strategically ignored. 

Tisby begins his book by repeating some of the misleading narratives that Baucham exposes, such as that of Breonna Taylor. Tisby writes about her, saying she "had been killed in a barrage of bullets in a 'no-knock' raid by police who had entered the wrong house"(2). However, Baucham cites the September 2020 report from Kentucky's Attorney General Daniel Cameron (a black man) on the investigation into Taylor's death. The report dispelled several potent myths that had already become embedded in the peoples' minds, including the facts that the police were not at the wrong residence and they did not use a "no-knock" warrant. I suppose it's possible that Tisby's book went to print before the AG's report, but one can see his complicity in perpetuating such social justice myths. I wonder if he will correct it.

Personal takeaways

Although I clearly find more personal affinity with Bacham's work, I do not find Tisby's work without merit. Some of the practical advice he gives to me, I can take in without adopting his CRT presuppositions. For example, it is good for me to think about matters of race, including my own racial identity and examining my own thoughts and feelings about race. It is helpful for me to know history, including the ugly history of racism and its impact on our society. I definitely think that I should teach on concepts of biblical justice, race and ethnicity in the church; however, I believe I would probably teach it very differently than Tisby and more like Baucham. How could I argue that building friendships with those of other ethnicities than my own is a bad idea? Of course, that is helpful. And other practical things of this nature, I think are good, and things of which I can be mindful and work toward intentionality. I certainly do not agree with all the ideologies or the political viewpoints behind Tisby's suggestions about how to build more inclusive organizations. However, one doesn't have to agree with his Critical Theory to acknowledge the need to look for ways to intentionally work for better diversity and inclusion in my congregation that reflects my community. CRT isn't necessary to be proactive in the quest for better racial unity and diversity. 

Tisby's work oozes with the kind of philosophical bent that Baucham is exposing. It's easy to see the CRT influence in Tisby's narratives, and his emphasis on systemic racism as the key problem and reparations as the solution. Almost everything is reduced to race and power, particularly any socio-economic inequity realities. 

Baucham's work is a gracious, but pull-no-punches apology for a biblical Christianity and critique of CRT.  I know he will be deemed uncharitable for calling out certain high-profile individuals from within the SBC. He will be accused of being a pot-stirrer for bringing up the subject of Resolution 9 at the 2019 SBC annual meeting. He will continue to be shunned because he dared recall those who ignored and refused to sign the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. One might argue that Baucham has already moved out of SBC life, so what does he have to lose? Or, they may say he is just being vengeful. However, I would challenge any critic to demonstrate how Baucham has misconstrued facts, reasoned fallaciously, written poor theology, or actually been uncharitable.

I appreciated that Baucham was vulnerable with his own personal story. I think is was important for him to share and bring his voice to the discussion, since CRT values the voice-of-color thesis. CRT proponents should want to hear his voice, but I doubt they will embrace it. They will surely say he has succumbed to lure of whiteness.

Overall, as I learn more about the modern social justice movement, the more I am persuaded that what Baucham describes as a fault line in evangelicalism is accurate. Tisby represents evangelicals who have drunk deeply from Critical Theory as applied to the American historical context in regard to race and racism. I, or Baucham, neither deny historical facts nor the stain of racism in our society. But I, like Baucham, do not believe that CRT's prescriptions are biblical, realistic, or helpful. I believe Tisby's approach to justice is informed about history, but deficient in current diagnosis and misguided in it's conclusions and prescriptions about race and racism. I agree with Baucham, who writes, "the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is not calling for reparations: it is forgiveness. Antiracism knows nothing of forgiveness because it knows nothing of the Gospel. Instead, antiracism offers endless penance, judgment and fear. What an opportunity we have to shine the light of Christ in the midst of darkness"(229)!

These books themselves represent the fault lines that Baucham describes in his book. I believe it would be good for any Christian to read both to gain these perspectives, put them on the scales of discernment, and decide for yourself which one is more congruent with biblical content and good doctrine. And I think it's perfectly fine if you are to find strengths and weaknesses in both, even when you end up clearly on one side or the other. No human author is above critique. 

However, these approaches are mutually exclusive of one another, and it will be impossible to hold on to both because each are on its own trajectory increasingly moving away from the other. 

The SBC is in a season of working through the following question: Is CRT compatible with the gospel? Some believe it is. Some believe it is not. Both can't be right. My advice, is to read about it and get informed. If you haven't read on the subject, then these books are a good place to start. I could say much more about each book, but my best advice is for you to read them and think for yourself.

  

12 February 2021

Maybe the Hardest is Yet to Come for the SBC

There is a well-worn saying that churches often make use of - "The best is yet to come!" I know I've seen it spoken many times, seen it marketed on social media and seen sermons with this title. Do a google search. You'll easily find many examples. But I've always been struck by the audacious nature of it. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for being positive and optimistic, yet there is something presumptuous about declaring to a congregation that although God has blessed, the best is yet to come. It also begs the question: What do we mean by best?  More attendance, more missions, more offering, new/bigger buildings, new ministries, more conversions. I suppose what anyone means by best is based on what he has been measuring success by already. But even if best inculcates spiritually-focused metrics, it still strikes me as proud.

The only sense in which I don't think this saying is presumptuous, is if we mean the best is our promised blessed hope yet to come. This is absolutely sure and biblical!  However, I believe that when I've seen the phrase used, it's not been referencing our eternal rest, but more likely the new vision for a local church or organization and aimed to stir up excitement and support.

What if, in God's sovereignty, the worst is yet to come in the here and now? I know you're tempted to stop reading, but I hope you'll hang in there with me. I believe I have a point in here somewhere. 

Let's first get some biblical bearing on what God says to us about the future in this life.

"The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." Proverbs 16:9

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand." Proverbs 19:21

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit' - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'." James 4:13-15

"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." Proverbs 21:1

It is clear that while we look forward to the next life with great confidence and anticipation, we are to make our plans humbly and hold them loosely on this earth. We have no idea what tomorrow may bring.

I understand the importance of positive leadership that inspires hope in people. It is a dereliction of duty not to plan for the future. Our church has a 5-year strategic vision plan we are working even now. So, please don't misunderstand. We must plan. However, the Bible tells us how to make our plans as well.

"Commit your wok to the LORD, and your plans will be established." Proverbs 16:3

"The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty." Proverbs 21:5

"Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." Psalm 127:1

Planning for good things with godly goals within a biblically focused framework is what we are called to do. We are called to do so humbly with all awareness that God is sovereign, even over our plans.

My role is to focus God's people on his truth and to bring them back time and time again to the challenge to trust God in all circumstances. I can't promise them the best is yet to come on this earth. Instead of quoting Jeremiah 29:11 out of context or some prosperity "name it and claim it" verse perverted from the overall teaching of Scripture, I need to encourage the flock to have the faith of Habakkuk, who declared during hard and threatening times, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor the fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." Habakkuk 3:17-19

The prophet expressed a devotion that would persist and an allegiance that would remain unshaken, even if hard and pressing times were to come. Certainly, there is a personal application. My trust in God and his revealed truth should remain constant regardless of whether my circumstances are favorable or unfavorable.

However, I find myself contemplating also an application of all this to my larger family of faith, my denomination of Southern Baptists. We are a group that loves to celebrate advance. We have been all about advance of the gospel at home and abroad. We love to count baptisms, membership, giving, missionaries, enrollments and church plants. We always have a plan to do more and get bigger. We kind of live by the saying, "the best is yet to come."  

We have to cast a vision for the future and set goals as a denomination. I do this as pastor with the congregation God has entrusted to me. It's important to be leaning forward into the right things with the right methods. Our entity heads, presidents, trustees and other key leaders have to do this too. It is their responsibility on behalf of every Southern Baptist church member.

But what if, God doesn't have a bigger and brighter future for Southern Baptists in the way we have always measured it. What if membership continues to decline? What if the number of baptisms continues to decline? What if Cooperative Program giving continues to decline? What if we can't support as many missionaries as we would want? What if our agencies and institutions have to downsize?

How will we respond to such a reality? 

I don't mean to be bleak; however, I think anyone paying attention can see that our American culture has become thoroughly secularized and growing more hostile to biblical Christianity. Cultural Christianity is even slowly going away in the South. Unless God sends a spiritual and intellectual awakening, it's reasonable to expect more and more of the ungodly fruit of the materialistic, post-modern mindset that now characterizes most of Western civilization. If this indeed is our future reality, then we need to think about how we will respond to such conditions. 

How will we respond to the possible encroachment of non-biblical ideas into SBC churches, schools and organization? We are beginning to debate already some of these. What will we do if some use CRT as a wedge of racial division? What will we do when some churches explicitly place women in the pastor/elder role? What will we do when we see more SBC affiliated churches gradually skirt the issue and then ultimately affirm the LGBTQ community? There is a cultural storm building in regard to all of these mixing with the general secularization of the society. 

If the road ahead is increasingly difficult for biblical Christianity, then I have an important question for Southern Baptists. Will Southern Baptists choose biblical faithfulness over pragmatism and trust over despair, if we find our commitment to God's Word more despised and our ranks thinning? Will we finally give up our attractional methods, or will we ramp them up? Will we make concessions to remain relevant and liked by a culture increasingly throwing off the restraint of God's Word, or will we be faithful even at the risk of great cost?

I think we need to think about this now. In the end, it's not about how big we are, but how faithful. We can celebrate advance in CP giving, or missions, or whatever, but we can't boast. Our only boast is in Christ. And the only goal by which all else should be measured is to make our chief end the glory of God. And to give God glory we must be faithful to his Word at any cost.

Jesus said to the seventy-two,  

"Go your way, behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." Luke 10:3

Paul wrote to Titus,

"For there are many who are insubordinate, empty-talkers and deceivers...they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach...But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine." Titus 1:10-11; 2:1

Brothers, let us plant our feet firmly now. The testing is here.

14 January 2021

Some Thoughts about Christian Nationalism

 

What is Christian Nationalism? There is a lot of buzz about it since the attempted siege of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6 by those, strange, bizarre, angry white people waving American, Trump, Christian, "Don't Tread on Me" and Confederate flags and really upset about something. What was their actual mindset, and what was their ultimate goal? Who knows? It appeared to be mostly an irrational, emotional display of anger and contempt for government. It became a classic display of mob mentality and ugly human depravity. It was a surreal scene on our televisions. Tragically, people were hurt and killed during the chaos. I have little doubt the mob would have actually hurt certain lawmakers if given the chance. It was a truly awful and shocking incident. But let's not forget, we saw worse acts of destruction and violence in various cities in our country for weeks all summer long in 2020, although prompted by different reasons. Nevertheless, the same kind of lawlessness.

Whoever these people were, they were a small minority of the huge crowd that had gathered on the lawn and among those who had walked to the Capitol. I conversed this week with a trusted friend who was there for Trump's speech, but he didn't go to the Capitol. He reported a very large crowd of tens of thousands on the Mall during the speech. Only a fraction of that stormed the Capitol.

The predictable responses were quick Tweets and commentary about what this was about, who it was, why it happened and who was to blame. Quickly, the battle lines drew up - liberal against conservative, and anti-Trump against pro-Trump. And quickly came the call to denounce Trump and Christian Nationalism because that was the obvious cause of the insurrection. So what is Christian Nationalism and why is the pressure now on for Christian leaders to denounce it?

Generally speaking, Christian Nationalism blends devotion to country, and typically a political party, with religion. The results of that blending falls out on a wide-ranging spectrum of rhetoric, symbolism, activities and agendas. Therefore, when we use the term Christian Nationalism, we might be simply speaking about ideas that seem harmless, like a church having a God and country worship service on the Lord's Day in honor of Independence Day, or Christians' desire to see society embrace Christian symbolism, like nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn, or the Ten Commandment inside the courthouse. Or, it may be on display when it seems partly to inspire provocative acts like we saw on January 6, where people do what is clearly anti-Christian with a warped sense of a righteous cause.  

And to make matters more confusing, it appears that those given to more extreme Christian Nationalism tendencies sometimes end up marching in the same direction with white supremacy or strange conspiracy theory groups, with whom they probably don't want to associate.

I think above all, what we saw happen on January 6 was a demonstration of fear by those who are more than uneasy about the changing political and social landscape of America. They are terrified in their imaginations about what may be coming. They had been truly convinced that the election was a fraud and the federal government, now swinging back to the liberal side, is hopelessly corrupt and is poised to unleash an onslaught of its progressive agenda that will undermine their vision of the American way. Hopefully, after a full investigation, we will know exactly who were the perpetrators of the lawlessness. 

And, I know we are in a hot debate about how much responsibility rests on our outgoing president because of his repeated Tweets about election fraud and because of his speech just prior to the incident. 

I've read the full transcript of his speech prior to the march to the Capitol. It is full of rhetoric about "fake news media" and the "rigged election." He derides weak Republicans who won't defend him and speaks contemptibly of Joe Biden. He said, "...this year using the pretext of the China virus and the scam of mail-in ballots, Democrats attempted the most brazen and outrageous election theft." He then spent most of the speech going over the points of interests he believes are proof of massive voter fraud in the key swing states in the election. However, concerning the question of Trump's responsibility for the siege on the Capitol, it's fair to consider he also said, "I know everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard." It is also worth noting that he did not invoke Christianity or Jesus or cast his grievances against the media, Democrats and weak Republicans as a righteous, religious cause.

So, did he directly tell the crowd to siege the Capitol? Obviously, the answer is no. Did the eight weeks of his post-election rhetoric and the tone of his speech contribute to some in the crowd resorting to violence? Maybe. It's still to be determined if the assault on the Capitol was pre-planned by some specific, fringe network or spontaneous, as many seem to assume. 

So, how does Christian Nationalism fit into what happened on January 6? I'm not sure that it does directly, and I don't think anyone else can confidently make that assertion. Yet, we did see various Christian symbols in the crowd - crosses, Bibles and signs. Some think this links a righteous cause mentality (Christian Nationalism) to the violence.





The one holding the sign, the ones praying at the cross, or even the bizarre dude holding the Bible with skeleton gloves in these pictures are not doing anything violent. These pictures show them outside the Capitol simply exercising their right to protest. 

However, the whole scene is certainly not a good look if you're a Christian. It certainly help's the critic's narrative that white, conservative evangelical, and Republican all go together to produce a dangerous mix. And certainly, that is a narrative being spun by those who have an interest to spin such. 

So, I want to pose some basic questions about Christian Nationalism, because the events of January 6 have prompted the discussion. Furthermore, although I don't believe Christian Nationalism has been proven to be the cause of the violence at the Capitol, I do perceive it to be problematic for the church.

What does Christian Nationalism look like?  

It is an American flag in the shape of a cross on your wall or lapel. It is preachers who maneuver the Bible at every opportunity to prop up their preferred politicians. It is political rallies in avid support of a political party or individual politician that incorporate religious worship, exalting each side-by-side. It is holding a political rally in the sacred space of a church sanctuary in support of a candidate or party. It is an uncritical insistence that America is a Christian nation with some kind of golden-era in its past that must be recovered. It is a t-shirt that blurs the line between devotion to Jesus and President Trump. 


And please, don't think the political right has the corner on Christian Nationalism. The political/religious left has been doing the same for years as well. So, in fairness here is a politically
 left version of Christian Nationalism on a t-shirt.

We observe Christian nationalism in many forms on the political left and right when we see the conflation of political ideologies with religious sentiment, activity and fervor. I do believe you see it more on the right, but it exists everywhere - white and black, conservative and progressive.

What is motivating Christian Nationalism? 

It's certainly easier to know it when you see it than to peel back the activity to get at the motivation. First, I believe those who conflate political cause and religion probably do so sincerely, convinced of the congruency of each with the other. There are certainly great areas of overlap of moral issues and political party platforms. And these intersections of ethical issues and political policies get extremely charged, whether it be on abortion or social justice. It ends up with some believing their party is the obvious party of real Christians because the other party supports abortion. It ends up with some believing their party is the obvious party of real Christians because the other party will not acknowledge systemic racism and fight for social justice. Once entrenched, the opposing party is not merely political rivals with opposing ideas with moral implications, but morally bankrupt enemies. This posture leads to a plethora of problems: demonization of the other side, constant mischaracterization or overgeneralization of the other side, repetition of misinformation of the other side, fear mongering of the other side, the inability to constructively dialogue with the other side, contempt of the other side, etc., etc., etc.  

I believe what may motivate some people who conflate Christian faith with devotion to a a political party or personality is the need to reassure themselves that God is on their side. They want to reassure themselves with others that their cause is the righteous cause and the other side is evil. I'm not saying everyone falls into this bleak analysis, but I think we have seen plenty of examples of such. And I would beware of assuming that just because a person holds up a Christian symbol, or speaks in religious rhetoric as they protest that he is truly Christian, if he is behaving in a clearly unbiblical manner. Jesus said we will recognize false prophets "by their fruits"(Matt. 7:15-20).    

Why is Christian Nationalism dangerous? 

You might think that the events of January 6 make the answer to this question obvious. Of course, any extreme form of Christian Nationalism that leads to lawlessness is a particular physical danger to others. Again, I don't think we are totally clear on who actually sieged the Capitol and why. Let's be patient and see what authorities ultimately report. However, such lawlessness should be prosecuted regardless of what inspires it. This past summer we saw weeks of lawlessness and violence by those supposedly involved with those protesting racial injustice. Such behavior in the name of promoting justice is more than ironic; it is the height of hypocrisy, just as the siege of the Capitol was, if those who did it actually perceive themselves as Christian.   

I would suggest Christian Nationalism is dangerous because it is a form of idolatry. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, "I am the LORD [Yahweh]; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols" (Isa. 42:8). Even more basic, God commanded, "You shall have no other gods before [besides] me" (Ex. 20:3). Simply put, it's wrong for a Christian to place country and politics along with its symbols alongside devotion to God and its symbols. It's idolatrous to infuse worship of God with devotion to a political platform.  

Christian Nationalism leans toward idolatry because it conflates devotion to country or a political ideological camp with devotion to Christ. These devotions become essentially one and the same. What is needed is clear distinction between the two.

NOTE! Christianity is not antithetical to genuine, proper patriotism. Appreciation for one's country, serving one's country, and being involved in our democratic republic is not in conflict with our devotion to Jesus. Scripture teaches us to be good, law-abiding citizens of our country, honoring our leaders, paying our taxes, and being submissive to whatever leadership God providentially has in place. Our only cause for peaceful insubordination, is if our government commands us to do something God forbids or forbids us to do something God commands. Yes! It is totally appropriate to be an activist against legalized abortion or racial oppression and inequity.

So, what is the answer?

We need to examine our hearts. We need to be honest about what captivates and motivates us to say what we say and do what we do. If my heart is truly being transformed by God's grace in Christ and my mind is being constantly renewed to God's Word, then my words and actions should be congruent with biblical Christianity, not some blend of cultural Christianity and political ideologies and personalities. 

I can stand for what I know is biblically right. I can be involved. I can call out what I know is biblically wrong. But, I don't fly the Christian flag and then justify a selective, biblical amnesia that ignores God's commands because I think the other side is so terrible and threatening. I must remember Jesus' command to love my enemies and even pray for those who persecute me (Matt. 5:43-48). I can't forget that Jesus told me that others will know I truly belong to him by how I love others (John 13:34-35). I can't ignore the fact that God commands me to live peaceably with all people as far as it depends on me and never to seek personal vengeance (Rom. 12:17-19). I can never diminish that Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

Right now the church must keep it's focus on the proclamation of the gospel and being faithful to the instructions of God's Word. We need to be the source of hope and the example of peace. And this starts with how we treat each other in the household of faith when we have disagreements among ourselves. We need to stand with strong conviction and clarity against the godlessness of our time and call people to surrender their lives to God through faith in Christ, who is our great God, Savior and Lord. We are called to be light of God's truth to a dark culture who loves the darkness. But we must always remember God's design is for that light to shine from his church house, not the White House or the Capitol.

As we enter into this time of transition in regard to leadership at the federal level, please pray for these leaders and for our country. Remember the Scripture, which commands us, "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4).