When the united kingdom of Israel split in two, Judah remained tied to Jerusalem as its capital with worship at the temple of Solomon. The northern kingdom, which continued to be called Israel, had to do something different. Jeroboam did not want his people going down to Jerusalem, though scripture commanded worship at the temple. Instead, he set up two golden calves, one at Dan and one at Bethel. The latter became a central religious area.
Throughout scripture in the Old Testament, one of the chief indictments against Israel by the prophets was that it played at religion, but was not really religious. Their treatment of widows, orphans, refugees, and the poor in general proved that though they played at religion, they were not serious. They did not have hearts of godly people, but of people turned over to their sins. They bowed to idols and before golden calves. They taught the commandments, but did not honor them.
The prophet Amos declared that “Bethel will be reduced to nothing,” and I wonder sometimes about the Southern Baptist Convention these days.
I grew up in the SBC. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church. My wife was too. In fact, we would still be in a Southern Baptist church if, when I went to college, I had discovered a decent one. But I did not and my SBC affiliated pastor suggested I find a PCA, Presbyterian, church. I still have a lot of fondness and kinship with the SBC and most of my and my wife’s families are in churches of the SBC still. My first time preaching was to an SBC group.
But there is trouble there. Some of the largest churches in the SBC are, like those at Bethel, playing at religion, but their actions show they do not really practice what they preach. They have conformed their religion to their politics and not the other way around. Let me just say as one in seminary who is engaged in politics for a living, if your faith and politics align perfectly, you’ve probably made politics your idol. Not a day goes by that I don’t think I have some area that needs improvement as I engage in the political process.
Within the SBC, however, that does not seem to be the case for some churches. During the election, they rallied to Donald Trump and some of them went beyond “he’s not Hillary,” to “he’s another Cyrus.” They touted Trump and ignored, papered over, or excused his sins. In the process, they harmed their witness and abused their fellowship with the growing number of black congregants in an increasing multiracial SBC. Instead of relying on God to save them, they decided Trump would save them.
One of the few voices in the Southern Baptist Convention leadership who maintained his integrity was Russell Moore. He refused to get on the Trump train. He refused to join some pastors in the SBC with rhetoric hostile toward refugees and immigrants. He called on Donald Trump to repent. After the election, Moore has been unwilling to water down the gospel call or the need for repentance and it is putting him at odds with some SBC pastors who went all in for Trump.
Moore’s refusal to surrender his integrity acted as a harsh spotlight on the lack of integrity others showed and in revenge, those others are seeking to punish Moore by withholding funds from the SBC. Others are calling for a formal investigation into Russell Moore’s actions as they seek his ouster.
These pastors got what they wanted. Donald Trump became President. But now they are working to push out the voices of integrity who are not willing to sacrifice their religion to accommodate the politics of the age. It is very much like Bethel. They are making great shows of religiosity. Their temples are full on Sundays and their cups overflow. Their shirts are starched just so and their cufflinks shine.
But they are not only seeking vengeance — and let’s not beat around the bush here, this is all about retribution — they are going after one of the few voices loudly standing up for traditional marriage, racial reconciliation between Christians, and support for the poor, widows, orphans, and refugees. They are doing it all because… well … their side won the election.
Like the man they supported, they are willing to sacrifice grace and common decency to purge from within any whose integrity shows how much they lack. And in the process, they are increasingly putting strains on race relations within the SBC. Many black congregations looked to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as a calming voice in the election season. Chasing after Dr. Moore looks like chasing after these churches.
Like the northern kingdom, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, Prestonwood Baptist, etc. are all playing at religion, but they’re worshipping a golden calf, or more aptly a golden haired politician, not the God of all creation. Their actions now show that clearly and if they do not repent, like Bethel, they too will be reduced to nothing.
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Let me come back here and add one more “grievance” against Russell Moore. Some, notably out of the Louisiana Baptist Convention but not exclusively there, are upset because Dr. Moore and several other SBC leaders supported a mosque’s right to build in New York. As Dr. Moore, David Platt, and others noted, at a time when secular leftists demand Christians get out of the public square, it would be self-defeating for Baptists to not defend other religions’ rights to be in the public square. If Christians surrender the idea of free exercise for all, they will be surrendering it for themselves as well. But some, in comfy confines where they think the gay rights activist will not soon show up on the doorstep of the Christian baker, would rather ignore or actively oppose the religious liberty of others thinking they will somehow escape the coming persecution. They will not.
The objection to Dr. Moore and David Platt for supporting a religion’s right to build a house of worship is cutting off the SBC’s nose to spite its face.
Additionally, some object to Moore’s support for allowing refugees into the United States. I would say again that the Old and New Testaments are both insistent that we will be judged on how we treat widows, orphans, and refugees. One of the great indictments against Israel, an indictment that demanded its destruction, was that it did not treat widows, orphans, or refugees well. The demand for good treatment of those groups carries over into the New Testament. If you deny that statement, you are denying scripture itself. If you expect a leader in any Christian denomination to ignore the plight of the refugee, you are expecting that leader to ignore his God.