Russell Moore has been the focus of concern over recent months. His sharp criticism of President Trump before he was elected (during the primaries and the general election) and especially his analysis of fellow Evangelicals has drawn a lot of fire. Dr. Moore repeatedly warned conservative Evangelicals (particularly Southern Baptists) about a moral responsibility to speak and vote honestly and consistently. Whatever one thinks of Russell Moore, and whatever one thinks of his tone, the criticisms and the warnings are at least worth hearing.
I recently read an article by Brad Reynolds that sought to simplify and explain the growing rift between the ERLC and the average Southern Baptist. The author cleverly created a fictitious character named “Bobby Baptist” to tell the story.
“Bobby is a contractor who works 8-10 hours a day, five days a week. He and his wife (Bonnie – an elementary school teacher) have four young grandchildren. Bobby and Bonnie both have Facebook accounts as they endeavor to keep up with their grandkids. This medium is where they get most of their news (not CNN or NY TIMES).”
Bobby is “frustrated” with Dr. Moore and the ERLC because of a misunderstanding, said Reynolds. The misunderstanding is not on the part of Bobby Baptist, however.
According to Reynolds, Bobby “saw the concern of a presidential nominee with a very immoral past, he saw the concern of race relations, and he certainly understands hypocrisy [three concerns Dr. Moore said many people do not see, which he is trying to highlight]. It is not that Bobby Baptist didn’t see these concerns; rather it is that Dr. Moore misunderstands Bobby.”
“What frustrates Bobby,” the author continued, is Dr. Moore’s inability to grasp, affirm, and promote Bobby’s position. Bobby believes it is his “Christian duty” to “trust” and “forgive” a man who is imperfect – like President Trump. Moreover, Bobby believes that the issue of abortion outweighs all others combined, and he thinks other issues are not worthy of discussion until this one is resolved.
I think there is some merit to Reynolds’ article, and he should be commended for his honest attempt at clarity. However, I think Reynolds has depicted the confusion and frustration from only one perspective, and this (as I see it) is precisely the problem.
Baptists are an arguing bunch. This has been true from the beginning, and it will remain true as long as there continue to be congregational Christians who believe in the responsibility of each Christ-follower to stand upon his/her biblical convictions. We don’t have a presbytery or a synod or a council to decree from on high what our denominational position is going to be on a given subject. We hold fast the essential confession of faith in the Gospel and the Christ who saves, but on the non-essentials we have much liberty. This means there is going to be disagreement, and such intermural debate does not have to divide us.
That said, “Bobby Baptist” may be the average Southern Baptist, but he will not be 10 or 15 years from now. Those younger (age 18-49) Southern Baptists who are coming up under and alongside “Bobby Baptist” are going to be the average Southern Baptist soon (as they move into the older demographics). They are a large number now (see Pew Research HERE), and they are increasing their activity in the SBC (see 2014 SBC statistics HERE).
For the sake of the simple storyline, let’s call this up-and-coming average SBC member “Barnabas Baptist.”
Barnabas is a married father of three children. He works hard at his job, but he values leisure and family time much more than vocational prestige. Barnabas’s wife, Beatrice, homeschools their young children, and she tries to carve out a night each week to open their home to a few neighborhood families. They are slowly building relationships over dinner, with discipleship intentions. Barny and Bee don’t watch TV, they carefully choose news outlets that will give them a broad perspective on the issues, and they do not like the partisan politics of American culture. They faithfully attend weekly worship services, and they see local time and energy investments in their community as their Christian duty and privilege.
Barny and Bee care very much about the more than 1,800 babies aborted each day in America, but they believe that they can make more of a difference locally than nationally. They have become licensed foster parents, and one of their children was adopted a couple of years ago. They are gracious to those who do not love and serve Christ, and they have high expectations for those who do. Barny and Bee have watched nominal Christianity become a real-life comic strip, and they are ashamed of the reputation Christianity has earned in America. They are doing their part to live as pilgrims, with citizenship in a kingdom that is yet to come.
When Dr. Moore points out the foolish efforts of many evangelicals today, who offer excuses for a despicable man simply because he is a Republican and he says he is against abortion, Barny and Bee hear words that resonate with their own thoughts. They would end abortion today if they could, but they also realize that how you do the right thing will have an impact on the future too. They wonder why “Bobby and Bonnie Baptist” are unwilling to listen to their concerns about the Christian witness of those who associate themselves with pompous political populists for the sake of partisan conquest.
You see Barny and Bee do want many of the same things Bobby and Bonnie want, but Barny and Bee simply do not believe that political power is how to make them happen. In fact, they believe political power is working against their biblical and moral goals at the moment, and they think that opposition is likely to grow. Therefore, they are disheartened by Bobby and Bonnie’s staunch grip on what appears to be a failed idea. Barny and Bee do not hope in the rise of a silent moral majority, they do not await a political rescuer, and they do not think “Republican” is the Christian party.
Therefore, Dr. Moore’s criticisms ring a clear bell that needs to be heard… at least from the perspective of Barnabas and Beatrice Baptist. While Bobby and Bonnie may not like that Dr. Moore is poking at some of their long-held comforts, they would do well to stop shouting down a man who is the public voice of so many Southern Baptists beside them. This is especially disheartening since Bobby and Bonnie should care more about the future of their denomination than the future of their political party.
From my perspective, Barnabas and Beatrice and Bobby and Bonnie all have great points on which they agree. The focus should not be on shutting one side down in favor of the other, but to encourage an ongoing discussion (and even debate) about how the two perspectives can help each other see one another’s blind spots. I think Paul says something about this in Titus 2, but I wonder if Southern Baptists are still “people of the book” as they once were.
Time will tell…