An open letter to Southern Baptists
We have been involved in Southern Baptist life for most of our lives. We are grateful for the opportunities to serve and minister in our Convention. At the same time, we have also witnessed and been involved in America’s political life. Though we never endorsed political candidates, as pastors and Southern Baptist leaders, we have sought to share our perspectives as to how Southern Baptist believers should evaluate the moral and spiritual issues during presidential election cycles. Based on biblical principles we trusted those to whom we ministered to use their brains and their hearts as they voted for political candidates. Such political campaigns can be times of strong emotion, spirited debate, excessive rhetoric and sadly, broken relationships.
The recent meeting of almost 1,000 religious leaders with Donald Trump (including a number of Southern Baptists) and the willingness of some to serve on an advisory group has caused much controversy. The negative reactions of some religious leaders have been much too public. We don’t doubt the same individuals who attended the meeting with Trump would meet and provide counsel to other legitimate candidates, if asked to do so.
Bible history abounds with examples of godly believers giving wise counsel to kings who were not believers. Did God condemn Daniel for his counsel to Nebuchadnezzar? Or Joseph for his counsel to Pharaoh? Or Isaiah for his friendship and counsel to Uzziah? We think not! Counsel to a king and that to a candidate aren’t exactly parallel, but the principle is the same. We choose our leaders. Given the opportunity we should stand on the truth of God’s word and speak to leaders who may not agree with us on everything. Publicly attacking and questioning the motives of fellow believers is unacceptable, unfair, and unhelpful. Such assumes the knowledge of the hearts of others. Only God has that knowledge. Disagreements with fellow believers should be private and not unleashed in the hands of an often hostile press that does not understand nor appreciate our faith or our convictions.
Offering counsel is not an endorsement. Many who will offer such to Mr. Trump have not and will not endorse him. These wise, godly men are simply taking advantage of the opportunity to provide him godly counsel. We (Draper/Vines) have not endorsed Mr. Trump, nor will we do so. But, we do not condemn nor judge fellow Christian leaders who have endorsed him or will offer him counsel. Further, does anyone seriously think any of these religious leaders would approve of the past or present sins of any candidate?
Perhaps no candidate in this election would be our first choice. Still, we are instructed to pray for and honor our leaders. Those instructions were given when the world was controlled by a Caesar who fought against our faith. Certainly we should pray and act in every way to encourage the embracing of godly principles and ideals by our leaders.
Let us learn from our own history. When this nation was born the ministers were the most prominent influencers of its conception. Election Day sermons were preached in the colonies in 1634, continuing from the early years of this nation until 1884. For 250 years elected officials would gather with other citizens to hear instructions from the Bible. These were not partisan politically, but were born out of a sense that true government was prescribed by God and also out of a deep desire for religious freedom. The conviction was that without sound biblical counsel the leaders chosen would not know how to carry out their responsibilities. These sermons clearly told the leaders what they should & should not do, and told the citizens to support them. These election day sermons and the undeniable connection of our Constitution and the Bible make it clear that our nation will only survive through adherence to a biblical worldview.
Rather than a “Trump” event, the gathering in New York was a time for these leaders to dialogue with Trump. We are not aware another candidate has offered such an opportunity, we are confident the same group would have gladly accepted it.
Let us not use our “liberty” in this free land, to excoriate fellow believers who choose a different way of exercising their “liberty” of conscience and action. We are at a crucial time when believers need to be unified in faith and conduct. Let us not use our “liberty” to attack and denigrate fellow believers who exercise their “liberty” in a different way. Let us say nothing that will cause believers to betray their Christian citizenship by refusing to vote. Some may choose to vote for Clinton, others for Trump. Still others will vote for a third party candidate or write-in. Let each believer vote as he or she feels led of the Lord.
We (Draper/Vines) became friends during the days of the Conservative Resurgence. Both of us experienced attacks, questioning of motives and intentions by some (not all) moderates who were entity heads. Sadly, we as pastors were less than temperate in some of our own remarks. For this we have repented and seek to be kinder and more loving in our remarks. Today, with social media available, such exchanges are more widespread and inflammatory.
Come November there will be a newly elected President. It would be a tragedy if a carnage of intemperate words, unloving attacks, and broken relationships should be scattered across the religious scene. While we must “speak the truth,” let us do so “in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Jimmy Draper, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Euless, Texas (1975-1991), SBC President (1982-1984).
Jerry Vines, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida (1982- 2006), SBC President (1989-1990).