When I wrote my public reaction to Brad Reynolds’ debut of “Bobby and Bonnie Baptist” I was not thinking about an ongoing public dialogue with a university professor. I merely hoped to exemplify what I believe is an often unheard voice in the conversation Mr. Reynolds and others are having about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). But as Mr. Reynolds said in his recent response to me, this conversation may indeed be a valuable addition to the ongoing discussion. With that in mind, I offer the following as another contribution to this exchange.
The interested reader would profit from reading each of the previous articles, providing background for the topic at hand. First, Mr. Reynolds wrote “Bobby Baptist and the ERLC” then I wrote “Barnabas Baptist & Bobby Baptist” and then Mr. Reynolds responded by writing “Bobby Meets Barnabas Baptist”
In Mr. Reynolds’ response to my article, he claimed to assume well of me, and he said my pastoral role should grant me some respect. For both I am grateful, and I aim for a respectful dialogue on my part as well. However, Mr. Reynolds does appear to understand (as do I) that respect does not exclude one from criticism.
As much as I enjoyed creatively inventing “Barnabas and Beatrice Baptist,” and as much as speaking through a fictitious character would allow me some distance through which I might relieve myself of full responsibility for my words, I am not clever enough to continue with the caricatures. Please allow me to proceed with this discussion straightforwardly (as Marc, rather than Barny).
I believe Mr. Reynolds has exemplified the kind of unhelpful response that guys like me perceive from those who more closely align with “Bobby Baptist.” Rather than interacting with my attempts to convey an alternate viewpoint, he has merely repeated his previous assertions in a slightly different format.
For example, Mr. Reynolds did not engage with my desire to address the problem of abortion on a local and individual level. He simply restated and expanded his position regarding a vote for pro-life candidates. God help us if casting a vote for someone with a “pro-life” platform is the only way (or even the primary way) a Southern Baptist can demonstrate pro-life conviction.
Furthermore, unless a president is willing and able to utterly abolish abortion (two giant assumptions), then Mr. Reynolds’ argument is much less potent than he seems to think it is. We both agree that abortion is a horrendous evil, so the repetition is a non-engagement of the real conversation. Can Mr. Reynolds and I agree that there are many ways the faithful Christian can address the issue of abortion? I hope so.
Another example of simple dismissal was Mr. Reynolds’ refusal to acknowledge any excuses concerning Donald Trump’s immorality. Mr. Reynolds said he did not know of “any Christian with [his] views who offers excuses [for Donald Trump].” My observation of Donald Trump as a perverse and pompous man was “dismissed” and, according to Mr. Reynolds, it has “no place in our discussion.”
Such a dismissal is both frustrating and disheartening. The citations I have provided below took less than 5 minutes to discover through a few Google searches. What is recorded in these citations is just a brief introduction to the kind of rhetoric that was common during the months leading up to the presidential election last year.
Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham both made solid efforts to draw any focus away from then-candidate Trump’s repulsive behavior (see evidence HERE and HERE). Falwell went so far as to suggest an anti-Trump conspiracy to draw attention away from the reality that there was glaring evidence of unacceptable conduct. Graham defended Trump by claiming that he has a “very good family.” Donald Trump has a good family? Whatever standard of measurement Graham used, we can know it is not a biblical one.
Beth Moore, Trillia Newbell, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Dr. Albert Mohler Jr. all saw the same excuses I did among some of those who endorsed Donald Trump as a candidate for President of the United States (see evidence HERE). As with Dr. Russell Moore, my concern is not particularly focused on the many Southern Baptists could ‘hold their nose’ and vote for Trump. Not everyone who voted for Trump excused him, but some (even some evangelical public figures) did. The Southern Baptists I tried to represent in my article (as Barny) are flabbergasted that any Christian (SBC or otherwise) could excuse Trump’s despicable character.
Mr. Reynolds said he “would never speak of the President (Obama or Trump) as a despicable man.” He said he tries not to use “such terminology about any person created in God’s image.” But this is exactly the kind of thing that troubles people like me. If Trump’s antics are not despicable (appalling, shameful, disgraceful), then when do we use this term?
This back-and-forth could continue, but that was not my intention in the beginning, and it is not my intention now. My intention is to show that Mr. Reynolds does not speak for the “average SBC member” as comprehensively as he seems to claim. This is the point we must see in order to proceed healthfully.
In his first article, Mr. Reynolds argued that Russell Moore does not understand or represent the average Southern Baptist (exemplified by his character, Bobby). Mr. Reynolds described Bobby as “a contractor who works 8-10 hours a day, five days a week” and has “four young grandchildren.”
I acknowledged that Mr. Reynolds is right when he says that “Bobby Baptist” is the larger demographic among the SBC today (ages 50-64 make up 33% of the SBC), but I pointed out that the typical Southern Baptist would soon be someone much different than Bobby (see Pew Research HERE and SBC statistics HERE). The reason for my doing this was to show that the “us” Mr. Reynolds sought to describe in his representative (Bobby) is not so neatly defined – even now.
Whether Mr. Reynolds wants to stand by his age demographic or not, the reality is that he sought to present a description of who the SBC is. It was also on that basis that Mr. Reynolds said, “[Dr. Moore should] either represent us or remove himself.”
This is precisely the issue, and this is what I think Mr. Reynolds failed to address. Does Mr. Reynolds stand by this demand concerning Dr. Moore? Will Mr. Reynolds acknowledge with me that the typical Southern Baptist is not an easy thing to define? Can Mr. Reynolds put down the defense of his views and allow for a different voice than his own in the SBC and ERLC? Or must every public and leading SBC voice sound like his?
The character I presented, Barnabas Baptist, was not an attempt to argue for the rightness of one perspective over the other. Instead, my hope (then and now) is that those within the SBC will be able to abide the existence of disagreement on the details.
Mr. Reynolds and I (and our respective caricatures, Barny and Bobby) don’t need to agonize over coming to a full-orbed understanding of one another until we can both agree to assemble and cooperate in the same convention. This will require an acquiescence of differing voices – on both our parts. I already and desire to continue to do just that, and I hope Mr. Reynolds will do the same.
Only after the defenses are put down will Bobby (those like Mr. Reynolds) and Barny (those like me) have any hope of coming to a mutual understanding.
May God grant us unity in the things that matter (such as the Gospel of Christ and core Southern Baptist distinctives), and may God graciously spare us from tearing each other apart in the mean time.