Southern Baptist Head Urges Evangelicals To Avoid Political Ideology Amid Crossroads
Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention President Pastor J. D. Greear is taking over as leader of the biggest Protestant denomination in the U.S. at an especially tough time.
Southern Baptists have been reckoning with their own #MeToo moment. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary board voted to fire its longtime president, Paige Patterson, last month amid controversy over past counsel he gave women concerning marital abuse and rape.
Southern Baptists are also at a political crossroads, the new SBC president says, and should draw a line between the denomination's religious message and the linking of that message to a specific political ideology.
During the SBC annual meeting earlier this month — where he got elected as president — Greear tweeted criticism in response to remarks made by the featured speaker, Vice President Mike Pence.
While the vice president talked about the importance of prayer and the moment he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, Greear noted that the Southern Baptists' identity should not be intertwined with a conservative or Republican ideology.
"There are certain things on the Republican platform that Republicans have championed that evangelical Christians have identified [with]. However, we need to decouple the identity of the church from particular political platforms about which there can be disagreement," he told Morning Edition host Rachel Martin.
Asked about those Christians who have sought to distance themselves from that political identity by shedding the "evangelical" label, Greear urges caution.
"What we need is not a change in label, what we need is a change of heart, a change in values," he says.
Evangelicals, he says, have "got to be committed to living out the faith and listening to criticism, even from people on the outside."
On political differences among evangelical Christians
I think a lot of evangelical Christians have a sort of a restless conscience right now. Evangelical Christians can agree on a lot of things that the Bible teaches. Sometimes we disagree on the best strategies to accomplish things. We can agree that helping the poor and caring for the vulnerable is a biblical value. What the government's role in it [and] what the right strategy is: that's something that there's certainly room for disagreement among Christians.
I think one of the things that there's some concern over is have evangelical Christians taken their central message — which is supposed to be the gospel of Jesus Christ — and have they encumbered that with too much specificity about political positions for which there really is room for people of faith to disagree?
On Attorney General Jeff Sessions' use of the Bible to defend the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border
I'm always kind of grateful to hear people attempting to interact with the Bible, but you know just because somebody quotes it doesn't mean that they're giving the full context of it or representing the full biblical message.
I mean, yes, the Bible does teach the submission to authority, and I've tried to be clear with this immigration question that we recognize that there is a certain charitable nature in passing laws and upholding them. Those include immigration laws. At the same time to separate families in the name of enforcing an immigration policy seems like a much too harsh [of] a punishment for the crime that's being committed.
[Editor's note: Not all migrants trying to enter the U.S. are committing a crime. Some migrants are legally seeking amnesty.]
On the #MeToo movement within the Southern Baptist Church
It's broken my heart what's happened with Dr. Patterson and just the way that that's happened. But I do think that the #MeToo movement has helped raise awareness that sometimes there's been hesitancy to listen to the victim when you should have listened to the victim.
Some things are not just immoral. They're also illegal. And what we've learned and I think needed to learn is that abuse is the kind of thing that can never be handled internally. It can never be minimized or brushed to the side. And so if nothing else I'm grateful that this has helped raise the awareness of the conversation.
Miranda Kennedy edited this story for broadcast.
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