Understanding Each Other & the Best Way to Respond to Charlottesville

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
I’ve been trying to figure out why people are getting so angry at each other about the events in Charlottesville this past weekend. Discussion has turned heated in almost irrational ways as we’ve tried to discuss and make sense of how we should respond to what happened. And here’s the thing— virtually everyone here at SBC Voices, both contributors and commenters, agrees about most of the major elements:

We all agree that white supremacy is abhorrent and evil, whether KKK, neo-nazi, alt-right or other. We all agree that leftist groups were there to escalate and incite violent conflicts, which is also wrong and evil. We all agree that protests of any kind should be peaceful. We all believe in the right to free speech, even when disgusting things are being said. We all are grieved by the terrorist attack by the white supremacist who used his car to drive into a crowd of people. We all mourn the death of Heather Heyer and pray for others who were injured in the attack. We all wish the country wasn’t so polarized right now.

So if we agree on all those things, why are we so divided? It seems like the major dividing point in the conversations I hear and read has to do with how we talk about the situation. One group emphasizes condemnation of white supremacy. The other emphasizes the need to condemn all the extremist groups involved (usually stated as to include Antifa and Black Lives Matter). Will we condemn the KKK without qualification or must we also include all groups involved in the Charlottesville protests? I’ve literally been angry at people, just yesterday, who have refused to condemn white supremacists without mentioning other groups along with them. Why should something that could be seen as a subtle nuance cause such a rift among people who agree on so much?

I’ve tried to trace it out and here’s what I’ve come up with. My hope is that it will help bridge the divide and promote understanding between the two viewpoints I’m describing.

View #1: White supremacy is evil and Christians should speak out clearly & mainly against it.
View #2: Right wing and left wing groups both caused problems and should both be condemned.

The difference between the two stems from how we answer this question: What is the most pressing and urgent problem in the Charlottesville situation? If people believe, as I do, that the most serious problem in Charlottesville was the presence of an emboldened white supremacist movement, then your primary reaction is going to be view #1. You’re going to want to speak out clearly and unequivocally against white supremacy. If people believe that the biggest problem in Charlottesville was that the protests turned violent and you’re looking to place blame for that - then #2 is likely your response. And there may be a legitimate argument that the leftist groups were equally instigating violence and that both sides were at fault, at least until the car attack made all the other violence look minor.

So the difference between us actually begins much sooner. Not just which groups we should condemn, but what is it in the Charlottesville situation that needs to be confronted? And I believe if we look at it through this lens, I can try to understand better why some want to talk about all groups and hopefully others can understand why I think that primarily addressing white supremacy alone is the better path.

Which Approach Should We Take?

In deciding between the two viewpoints, and in advocacy of my own view, I would first point out that everyone agrees that peaceful protests should be conducted without resorting to violence. That goes for all locations, all groups, and all causes. There’s nothing unusual about Charlottesville in that respect. We feel about Charlottesville the same way we did about Ferguson and Baltimore. We might disagree about the how legitimate the complaints were in any of these instances, but we all hated to see them turn violent and we all condemned the violence. The fact that there was violence between the protesting groups isn’t mainly what brought this Charlottesville event to national prominence (again, at least until the car terrorist attack).

The most significant aspect of this event is that it was an open, national gathering of white supremacists who feel emboldened to come out of the shadows, show their faces, and march chanting old Nazi-era slogans. This is the shocking facet of what happened on that Friday night. This is what makes me wonder what minority believers must be thinking and feeling — and how I can unite with them in responding to this. This is what makes me determined to speak up. The main problem was this KKK/alt-right march in the first place — and that’s not the fault of Antifa or BLM or anyone else.

I believe there are objective and subjective reasons to consider the white supremacist aspect of Charlottesville the part that needs to be urgently addressed.

  1. There would have been no event, no conflict, no violence, no death of Heather Heyer, no police officers killed in a helicopter crash if this event had not taken place in the first place.

  2. The white supremacists came armed with weapons, ready to be violent and kill if the opportunity arose. They've stated since then that they believe in their future rallies more people will die.

  3. The terrorist attack with the car was perpetrated by a white supremacist and later defended by leaders of the white supremacist group.

  4. A white supremacist rally in and of itself is meant to intimidate and terrorize the public, particularly minorities, but also anyone who would stand up against their white supremacist vision.

  5. Standing with minorities in our culture means we take seriously their perspective. Do you think very many non-white people look at Charlottesville and think the main problem was that the different groups got angry and violent with each other?

  6. Undoubtedly the public perception about Charlottesville is that the white supremacist element was the most notable. The photos of young, angry white men carrying Walmart tiki torches (seriously?) will be seared into the national consciousness for years to come. Can we not speak clearly to that without diluting what the world ought to hear the church saying? This isn't a time for anti-PC warriors to try and score points against leftist groups. That's an exercise in missing the point.

This is a time for Christians to keep the main problem in view and speak clearly, without equivocation or qualification, about the evil of white supremacy.

Bruce Ashford series on the alt-right

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
Bruce Ashford has written an incredibly helpful 4-part series on the alt-right movement and how evangelicals should respond to it. Not only is this worth your time for reading and your own understanding, but many church members will likely have questions about Resolution 10 and what the SBC meant when it passed a resolution condemning the alt-right movement. This is don't-miss material.

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right

Overview: An Evangelical Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right
Part 1: An Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology
Part 2: A Profile of 5 Alt-Right Leaders
Part 3: A Response to FAQs about the Alt-Right
Part 4: An Evaluation of the Alt-Right

I mainly post this here to make you aware of this excellent resource. I plan on making it available to our church members when we give a #SBC17 overview to our church.

H. B. Charles Lays Out Vision for 2018 Pastors' Conference

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
Last week the news broke that H. B. Charles would be nominated for President of the 2018 SBC Pastors' Conference. It was big news and widely welcomed in news and social media. Brad Graves, who had previously been announced as a nominee withdrew his name from consideration in support of Charles' nomination, which made a noteworthy announcement even more significant.

Today H. B. Charles posted at his blog an article titled "My Nomination for SBC Pastors’ Conference President" where he gives some personal reflections about his nomination. The post is well worth reading for several reasons - two of which I want to highlight here that I find hugely encouraging.

First is that Charles lays out his vision for what the 2018 Pastors' Conference will look like. Here are his words:
If elected, I will give my best effort to plan a conference that will encourage pastors, model biblical preaching, and promote the Great Commission.

We know that H. B. Charles is highly regarded for his biblical preaching - and that's exactly what we want to see at the 2018 Pastors' Conference. You might remember the 2017 PC President got the ball rolling on his nomination by asking the question "Why Not Focus on Biblical Preaching at the Pastors Conference?" This is a theme that resonates deeply with me and with the team who has been involved with the 2017 PC. We would love to see it become an expectation that future SBC Pastors' Conferences will feature expository, text-driven preaching as the norm.

Second, it is hugely encouraging to see Charles' consideration of what Dave Miller has brought to the Pastors' Conference. Again, his words:
As I contemplate this opportunity, I cast my eyes toward the work for this year’s conference. Before coming to Jacksonville eight years ago, it was my joy to serve a smaller congregation in Los Angeles for almost eighteen years. I pray this year’s conference will be uplifting for one and all. And I pray the Lord will grant me wisdom to consider the spirit of this year’s conference, as he leads me regarding next year’s theme, program, and speakers.

When Dave set out to implement his vision for 2017, we planned that it would be a one-time event. None of our group is interested in running or being as involved as we have been this year. It's a lot of time and work. We've loved doing it, but at this point it feels like we're nearing the end of a marathon – the finish line is ahead and it means what its title implies. We didn't expect another conference to be exclusively preachers from average-sized churches. We didn't expect that every PC in the future would preach through a book (though we hope this years' will show the value and possibility and that we will see the approach again).

But we did hope that some of the themes that we've desired and promoted would be given heavy consideration in the future. Dave's vision resonated with enough people in St. Louis to win that election, which surprised many at the time. But it showed there is a desire for a Pastors' Conference that aims for biblical expository preaching and values SBC churches of all sizes. So it's a joy for H. B. Charles to say he plans to "consider the spirit" of the 2017 PC as he plans for Dallas.

It's not customary for the current Pastors' Conference to comment on an upcoming nomination and probably isn't appropriate for it  to do so. So I don't speak for the Pastors' Conference or leadership team in any official capacity. But personally, I'm glad to tell you I plan to enthusiastically support H. B. Charles for Pastors' Conference President. I'd be glad for you to join me and many others who are already planning to do the same.

In Defense of Open Mic Time at Funerals

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.

Yesterday William Thornton wrote about The Bizzare Cases of Strangers Speaking at Funerals. William recommended against "the growing trend of an informal, almost ad hoc service where various family members and friends may speak as well as the minister or ministers". The article had a number of points about funerals that I would affirm as good advice - like making sure the gospel is clearly presented, and making sure you learn about the life of the deceased and include that in your message.

I thought it was worth some gentle pushback on the open mic time, however. I would estimate about half of the funerals I do have included a time of inviting anyone present to speak. I've never had a bad experience or a funeral go wrong because of including that element. The vast majority of time I've found it to be an very encouraging and memorable time for the family.

When I sit down with a family to plan a funeral, I take a sample service order that includes several optional elements at the bottom. I let the family know they are welcome to include any of those they prefer, and one of those options is an open mic time for family and friends. I allow them to choose if the mic will be completely open to anyone present or if they would like to pre-select a certain number of family and friends who will speak (that's not technically an open mic time, but it's close in the way it practically works out).

I haven't gone back and counted, but I would guess half or more of the services I've done, the family has asked to include that optional element. I think it's more common now for families to include that than it was 9 years ago when I started pastoring, but that's just my sense.

Setup Is Key

I believe one of the reasons it's worked well in services I've done is that it's planned well and we have an emergency exit plan. First, I ask the family during our planning meeting if they have a couple family members who will want to speak, to at least one of them to be ready to go first. That avoids a long, awkward wait in a "who's going to go first?" holding pattern. So ahead of time, I normally already know of two or three people who are planning to speak.

Second, near the beginning of the service, I let people know there will be "a time later for anyone who would like to share some thoughts about..." That way people have a few minutes to get their thoughts together.

Third, I introduce the time with some specific instructions (I almost have this part memorized): "We ask that you keep your comments relatively brief so that plenty of people will have an opportunity to speak and, of course, make sure whatever you decide to share is appropriate for this occasion." This gives me an emergency exit plan. If someone were to go on too long, or if someone were to branch off in an area that's inappropriate or uncomfortable, I am ready and willing to intervene with a firm but kind, "Thank you sister Margaret, let's make sure others have an opportunity to speak." I've never had to do that, but I'm always ready and let the family know ahead of time if it goes off the rails I'm prepared to handle the situation.

Allow it to Develop Naturally

Allow there to be some silence between speakers without feeling awkward. This adds to the authenticity of the moment. Some family members will cry while they speak. Let them know ahead of time people will understand and will appreciate their desire to speak at such a difficult time. After enough people have spoken, close down the time and thank everyone who spoke for their words.

People understand the unscripted nature of that time during a service so I don't feel the need to police or correct theology on the spot. It's an opportunity for people to speak their own thoughts. If there is some unbiblical sentiment expressed, I always have the time later in the service to gently, indirectly remind people of what the Bible teaches. This is actually one of the biggest advantages, one of the reasons I most like including open mic time...

I Read from the Bible

It's not unusual for a family member to ask me to read a letter or poem as a part of the service. I'm sure most pastors have experienced that as well. I've found that most funeral poetry isn't the kind of thing I'm comfortable endorsing. When I'm asked, I don't even read the content before I respond with, "When I read in funerals, I read from the Bible." I don't want to sit with a grieving family critiquing the theology of line 6 of the needlepoint craft they've had hanging in their house since they were kids, for example. So whether it's good theology or not, I decline kindly and offer that if one of their family members or friends would like to read something, they can feel free to do that during the open mic time. I've never had a family push back on that suggestion. I remind them cousin Richard would probably be honored if you asked him to read something during the service. (In cases of seriously unbiblical theology, I would let the family know I don't recommend having that as part the service and offer an alternative, but I've never had anyone want anything like that, it's usually just atheological therapeutic thoughts, which are not necessarily bad, in context, in proportion, and I know I'm going to give a strong gospel presentation during my message.)

So having the open mic time gives an informal outlet to those who want to participate but don't need to be a part of the formal service structure. It allows a meaningful and encouraging time for the family. It provides a natural and comfortable time for people to talk and express their grief in a way that honors their loved one. There is an informality to the time that I usually sense to be a welcome relief of tension in the funeral service. It helps me before I preach to hear about the life of the one I'm about to speak about. I consider my job in leading a funeral to have two main goals: (1) honor the memory of the person who's gone and (2) preach Jesus and his gospel. Open mic time has never once detracted from either of those goals.

NAAF President Byron Day - Calls for Unity, Moore 'Outstanding' as ERLC President

This article originally posted at SBC Voices.
David Roach at Baptist Press reported this evening that Byron Day released an open letter calling for reconciliation between Russell Moore and his critics (Article: NAAF pres. urges 'reconciliation' among Moore, critics). Day is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Maryland and current President of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, a network of over 4,000 "predominately African American pastors and churches affiliated with" the SBC. Recent past presidents of the NAAF include K. Marshall Williams, Sr., and Dr. A. B. Vines, Sr.

The letter is first a call for unity. Of five paragraphs the letter contains, four stress the desire for unity. Day says the current controversy is damaging to our gospel witness and distracting from our mission. The fourth paragraph, which is clearly meant to play a supporting role in the letter, does offer a strong statement of appreciation & support for Russell Moore continuing to lead the ERLC. This seems especially notable after Dwight McKissic's widely shared post on Monday in support of Russell Moore. McKissic stressed how Moore is held in high esteem by the vast majority of black Southern Baptists. Day's open letter further substantiates McKissic's claims in that area.

Excerpts from the section in support of Dr. Moore follow: "Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He... has been outstanding as president of the ERLC... he has also addressed social injustices such as racism which have been long overlooked." This is high praise from an influential voice in the SBC.

Those sections are important, but please don't overlook the supporting role they play in calling the convention to unity. Four of five paragraphs stress unity, reminding us to let political differences take a back seat, requesting private meetings to reconcile (Jack Graham confirmed in Tuesday's Q&A that meetings of that nature had taken place but did not say how much progress had been made.), and other calls for us to put this controversy behind us. Letter text is reprinted below.
An Open Letter to Southern Baptists

The recent events surrounding ERLC President Russell Moore is dividing Southern Baptists and, more importantly, is hurting the name of Jesus Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel. The recent election has not only further divided our country, but it seems that political views threaten to divide our Convention, not over major theological doctrine but over practical or political preferences. Truth be told, our Lord is neither Republican nor Democrat; He is Lord of all.

The name of Christ is far too valuable and the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world too important that we should allow political disagreements to distract us from that which is most significant. The commands of our God and Savior Jesus Christ to love one another as He loves us outweigh any personal political views. This is how we show the world that our faith is genuine. To be sure, feathers have been ruffled on both sides; but obedience to the Bible's teaching can surely offer a solution so that we can get back to working together to share the good news of God's love, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life.

What would happen if those offended by Dr. Moore were to take a biblical approach and talk to him privately concerning comments that offended them and then give him opportunity to apologize and be reconciled, to the glory of Christ? What would happen if Dr. Moore would receive their calls and agree to meet with them and experience reconciliation, to the glory of God? What would happen if Dr. Moore, upon learning that his brother has something against him, would leave his offering at the altar, seek him out, and be reconciled to his brother, to the glory of Christ? Would not God be glorified and Southern Baptists be better served?

There are some who have suggested withholding cooperative dollars until Dr. Moore is either disciplined or fired. However, Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He has not violated The Baptist Faith and Message and, in fact, has been outstanding as president of the ERLC. He has represented all Southern Baptists, contending for the highly visible ethical issues of abortion and biblical marriage; but he has also addressed social injustices such as racism which have been long overlooked.

Southern Baptist have been uniquely gifted and called to have a great impact for the Kingdom of God. We must not be ignorant of the schemes of the enemy to divide us. Now is not the time for division but unity and we must be diligent to preserve the unity we have in Christ. Perhaps we should all take a step back and consider what would most honor Christ. The name of Jesus is too valuable and the preaching of the Gospel to the world too important to do otherwise.

Byron J. Day, President, National African American Fellowship of the SBC

Source: original BP article.

Open Letter to Jack Graham from NOBTS Students

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
This is the text of the open letter to Jack Graham by six NOBTS students. The letter was first delivered to Graham during this morning's visit to the NOBTS campus. It was released at their website, iheartcpblog.wordpress.com and they offer the option to add your name to the document. Graham preached chapel today at NOBTS and the students made "I Heart CP" t-shirts and asked questions during a forum time requested by Graham.

We've covered some of the details as Titus Terrebonne and Devin Haun have written about the situation & their concerns. I'm thankful for this letter as it's gracious, measured, but pointed about some of the problems they and others have seen with Prestonwood's actions. The full text is below.

Preface to Letter

The following document is our open letter to Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. Before anyone reads the letter we want everyone to know how thankful we are for Dr. Graham. We are thankful that he preached in our chapel today and we are thankful that he took the time to answer some of our questions. We hope that this letter communicates our position clearly and concisely. The drafting of this letter has been a labor of love and it is something that we have constantly prayed over. We hope that our tone is gracious and that everyone who reads this understands that we are writing this in love and not hate. Thank you again Dr. Graham. We hope to get your feedback on our letter to you. We also hope to send letters to people on the other side of some of these issues. We look forward to partnering with Dr. Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church in the future.

An Open Letter to Pastor Jack Graham

We, the undersigned students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, would like to express our concern with respect to the recent decision made by Prestonwood Baptist Church to escrow their Cooperative Program (CP) contributions. Prestonwood Baptist Church has done so in order to express their displeasure with various Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities. As students who attend an SBC Seminary and worship and serve in SBC churches, we recognize that the CP is the lifeblood of our convention and a crucial element of our Southern Baptist identity. The CP sets us apart from all other evangelical denominations, allowing us to operate one of the largest mission-sending agencies in the world. As members of SBC churches, we feel a deep sense of unity toward all who consider themselves Southern Baptists, including Prestonwood Baptist Church.

We appreciate Pastor Jack Graham, and the members of Prestonwood Baptist Church in all the ways God has used this local body to further His Kingdom. We are grateful for and honor the leadership of Pastor Jack Graham throughout his decades of service within the SBC, including the mentorship that he has provided for countless pastors during his years of faithful service. We rejoice in God’s work through Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church manifested in numerous baptisms, church plants, and support given to the CP. Because of these acts of service considered, we do not question the dedication of Prestonwood Baptist Church or Pastor Jack Graham to the Kingdom of God, the Great Commission, or the SBC.

Despite these advancements of the Gospel, we have deep concerns for the recent measures that have been taken by Prestonwood Baptist Church. Our reasons for concern are listed and explained in the following paragraphs:

Church autonomy should not hinder the unity we have within our denomination. Church autonomy is paramount in Baptist life. We want to publicly affirm Prestonwood Baptist Church’s position as an autonomous body to designate its funds wherever her members decide. We are concerned, however, that withholding CP funds to influence the convention or her entities unnecessarily hurts our gospel effort. Southern Baptists are endowed with two mechanisms to influence the direction of the convention or her entities: The Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention itself. Using these mechanisms does not hinder the gospel, but it still guarantees representation. We desire to encourage Prestonwood Baptist Church to express their concerns through these other channels of communication within the SBC.

Speaking through means of church funds circumvents the processes of the convention. The convention is designed to allow a maximum of twelve messengers from each church to be able to represent their local body. This process allows churches large and small to speak their concerns on an equal platform. However, for a church to use its budget as the prominent means to voice their desires gives them undue power within the convention. This manner of maneuvering side-steps the process established by the leadership of the convention and is in danger of turning the convention into an oligarchy of the elite.

Smaller churches are at risk of losing their voices. Some may reason that “money talks,” and that these actions are justified if they meet a beneficial end. Aside from this expression not being found in Scripture, such a philosophy is in danger of dwarfing the voices of the smaller churches within the SBC. Being able to speak in the same manner as those who have more resources available to them will be impossible for smaller churches. Considering the fact that nearly 90% of churches within the SBC average 250 members or less in weekly attendance, this should be a grave concern for all within the convention.

These actions set a precedent that puts the Cooperative Program at risk. If such a method of escrowing money proves popular, a dangerous precedent will have been set for our denomination. Megachurches may withdraw their funds from the CP when they become disgruntled with the convention, spurring smaller churches to follow suit. Amidst such a climate, more missionaries may have to return home, church plants could close their doors, and young pastors may have to seek their theological training elsewhere, or even withdraw from classes.

Above all else, our heart is for the gospel to reach the lost. We believe that Prestonwood Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Graham share this heart with us. Withholding any money from the CP has a direct negative effect on the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. The salvation of the lost means more than any number of non-dogmatic arguments.

We love the SBC and all of its churches, and do not write this letter out of anger towards Prestonwood Baptist Church, or Pastor Jack Graham. We are writing this letter because we love the CP. We are not Southern Baptists merely because we hold to orthodox beliefs; those beliefs simply make us Christians. We are not Southern Baptists because of doctrinal distinctives; those distinctives simply make us Baptists. We are Southern Baptists because of the CP, and the numerous ministries it supports.

We desire, above all else, reconciliation between Prestonwood Baptist Church, Pastor Jack Graham, and the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hope that churches will join us in recommitting our efforts to further the Kingdom through the Cooperative Program. Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church have loyally partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention for many years. We at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary look forward to continuing our partnership for many more years to come.

We love Pastor Jack Graham.
We love Prestonwood Baptist Church.
We love the Cooperative Program.
The Signing Students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Jay Breaux
Stephen Belk
Titus Terrebonne
Michael Hogeland
Christopher Johnson
Devin Haun

[Option to add your name available on the website.]

Graham & Prestonwood's Serious Threat to Cooperative Ministry Efforts

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
At times, Baptists from Texas have been known to cause a ruckus in SBC life. It was about 40 years ago that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were forming plans for a revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention. Yesterday, news dropped that a Texas megachurch pastor aims to make serious waves in the SBC - but with a wholly different approach than Pressler and Patterson.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, through one of their staff, announced that the church would be withholding their Cooperative Program giving, one million dollars annually, until they’re more satisfied with the leadership and direction of the SBC. We’re tempted to be shocked by this action because of the number of zeros that accompanies the financial figure. But the real story here is that a former SBC President has chosen such a destructive tactic to strong-arm change in our cooperative ministries. That’s a serious charge. And I plan in this article to explain why the charge is not overstated.

This Tactic Is Destructive to SBC Cooperative Work

Pressler and Patterson showed the way to affect change in SBC life. They worked through the bylaws and convention processes to win a majority of committee and trustee spots in order to affect change.

It’s a good thing for all of us their tactic wasn’t to withhold or redirect Cooperative Program giving. Had they chosen that path during the 70’s and 80’s, who can doubt it would have led to a splintering or fracturing of the SBC rather than the unprecedented resurgence God allowed us to see?

The reason Jack Graham’s tactics are destructive to the SBC is not because the budget will take a hit, as sorry as I am to see our missions work and seminaries have less resources to use. His tactics are destructive because as soon as this philosophy is adopted, as soon as Graham’s behavior is emulated, the entire endeavor of cooperative ministry collapses. Envision this: Faction is quickly pitted against faction in SBC life in ways far more dramatic than anything we’ve seen before. Each group states their demands and holds hostage their missions giving until those demands are met. Some factions give up and splinter off. The ones with the big money buy their influence and no one cares what the vast majority of SBC churches think—because their budget isn’t big enough for their threats to matter. This doesn’t even take into account how many churches and pastors check out of cooperative ministry because it’s become as politicized as secular politics.

If Jack Graham believes dramatic change is needed in SBC life (and I’ll disagree with him all day about that, but that’s another conversation), he should emulate those that have gone before us, continue to cooperate in good faith, and seek to influence by advocating, electing, and convincing rather than threatening to defund cooperative ministry. Pressler and Patterson chose the way of courage. It was costly and took time, but the fruit is evident now. What we’re seeing today is not courage. It’s destructive and should be widely condemned.

Withholding Funds to Seek Influence Should Be Rejected

Yesterday’s press release indicated Prestonwood was withholding funding because of their concerns and that it likely would be restored if those concerns were satisfied. This is seeking to influence through financial pressure and I see no way around that interpretation. It sounds from the press release that Graham and Prestonwood wouldn’t even dispute that’s the purpose, even if they don’t like the wording of my description.

Graham’s views on the direction of the SBC have been clear for anyone who cared to listen. They’ve been promoted by some of the more tabloid-style state Baptist papers. I’ve known for some time now that Graham isn’t happy with Russell Moore. The article indicates there are additional unnamed concerns.

Now, I’m actually a pretty big advocate of churches being able to give to cooperative missions as they feel led and not guilted into a certain percentage. So this would seem like an issue where I’d normally say, sure, Prestonwood, if that’s how you feel led to steward your money, then have at it. What makes me see this as more than just a local church stewardship issue?

Local church stewardship issues—when a church’s leadership feels stewardship demands missions dollars be redirected—can be handled wisely and quietly. I've handled some in the past. Never have I thought it would be productive to publicize reasons we decided to end support for a ministry. There’s a way to redirect missions giving as a church leader that doesn’t end up at a press conference or in a newspaper headline. This is not about an autonomous SBC church choosing to give (or not give) in a different pattern than they used to. This is about taking that decision and using it to pressure and cause people to take your threats and your position more seriously than your voice alone warrants.

Please don't miss the fact that Prestonwood could have quietly (or, less desirably, vocally) withheld funding from just the ERLC, which receives a small percentage of total CP giving while continuing to fund IMB, NAMB, our SBC seminaries. Why withhold all CP money and why the press release? Those are only a few of the questions that make this situation so disturbing.

We don’t have a convention where big money buys a big voice. But that’s exactly how we’re being treated right now. Those who have a lot of money are in the newspaper reminding us—in dollar figure form no less—that their voice needs to be heeded, or else...

A Few More Questions

Is this the way we want the SBC to operate in the future—Churches threatening to withhold money until their demands are met? Churches with big budgets calling the shots while thousands of average-sized churches watch and hope our vision for the convention aligns with the self-appointed convention benefactors? Do we really want IMB personnel on the field waiting to hear if churches are withholding funds because we can’t get along about secular politics?

I reject this future for the SBC, and because I do, I can’t be silent now. This path is destructive to our cooperative work and I pray we don’t choose it. Jack Graham and Prestonwood, leadership here looks like reversing this decision. Other SBC leaders, if they won’t, please call this for what it is.