The Goal: Real Unity

To my surprise, Brad Reynolds (professor and Vice President of Academic Services at Truett-McConnell University) and I (a rural Texas pastor) have engaged in public discourse for nearly a month now. The exchange of ideas has likely been more interesting to some and less to others, but I have certainly benefitted from the interaction. In this, my third contribution to the discussion, I’d like to attempt a significant movement towards my own end-goal.

In his most recent article, Mr. Reynolds offered our exchange as a teaching tool for the interested reader. He believes, it seems, we have been exemplary. I am not entirely sure, however, if he thinks my example has been one to follow or one to avoid. At any rate, my hopeful posture is the same as his in regard to the benefit our exchange may provide other Southern Baptists.

Cutting to the chase, I want to argue that the disagreement we should be focusing on is not the one Mr. Reynolds seems intent on highlighting. Instead of continually bantering back and forth about our distinct perspectives on political engagement or community involvement, I believe the more important disagreement is over the real inclusion of a different voice in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its various entities.

First, Mr. Reynolds’ article that began this whole discussion insisted on the removal of Russell Moore from the ERLC. The basis of Dr. Moore’s removal, in the mind of Mr. Reynolds, is that he does not “represent us” (the “us” referring to the average member of the SBC). In my response, I argued that the “us” Mr. Reynolds tried to describe was a much broader group than he initially postulated.

I presented a perspective that I believe exemplifies a significant group of SBC members who agree with and are encouraged by many of Dr. Moore’s words and actions. The point of my response to Mr. Reynolds was not to argue against his views, but instead to argue that his views do not fully represent the SBC. He has but one perspective, and there are indeed others.

Second, Mr. Reynolds’ response to my initial contribution was a doubling down on his previously articulated perspective. It seemed to me that Mr. Reynolds felt as though I was mischaracterizing his position, and his chief purpose appeared to be further clarity. This is an admirable goal, no doubt, but it is not what I believe is the most important matter at hand.

I responded to his second article with another of my own. Unable to resist the urge to punch a couple of holes in what I believed to be an obfuscation of some major concerns, I engaged Mr. Reynolds’ views on political and social matters before I reaffirmed my basic desire for agreement on the deeper issue. I now regret the first half of my second article, not because I would pull away from the substance, but because the banter is beside (and a distraction from) the more important point.

Third, and finally, the more important point is our disagreement concerning the very existence of different views inside of the SBC. I say this is a good and necessary thing, Mr. Reynolds says something different. He asserts that Russel Moore should remove himself (or be removed) from the ERLC since he does not represent those in the SBC like Mr. Reynolds.

Mr. Reynolds says that he does allow for different views and he gladly welcomes such variant perspectives from his own among the SBC. However, he is simultaneously calling for the removal of an SBC leader who represents a different view. It appears that Mr. Reynolds does not understand that he is denying and affirming the same thing at the same time. I am no seminary professor, but that sounds like a contradiction to me.

Mr. Reynolds seems to demand that Dr. Moore represent a perspective he does not have, but a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. This is a ridiculous expectation, and it is the primary reason for my entering this discussion in the first place. If Mr. Reynolds is only willing to allow a different voice in the SBC when it has no real influence or platform, then this is no real allowance.

Either Mr. Reynolds (and others like him) will abide the voice of those like me in the SBC (including when those voices are in leadership positions), or he (and they) will not. If there is a willingness to coalesce around more important things (such as the Gospel and several Southern Baptist distinctives), then we shall see great days ahead. If there is only the desire for an echo-chamber regarding a full range of practical issues, then the SBC will continue to slowly drift into irrelevance and obscurity.

Once again, my hope and prayer is for genuine unity among the SBC.

May God grant us the kind of lasting unity that is strong enough to allow disagreement on lesser things.

Barny B: Unveiled & Hopeful

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.