ONTARIO, CA — Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines discussed several hot button topics in the denomination during a whirlwind question-and-answer period with state Baptist paper editors meeting here Feb. 15.
The discussion covered President Donald Trump’s first 25 days in office including the refugee crisis, the controversy surrounding Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, churches tithing 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, and state conventions splitting their Cooperative Program receipts 50/50 with national entities, Millennials and the future of the denomination, and the future of the nation.
Gaines said he voted for Trump as president, but that was not his first choice, having voted for Ted Cruz in the primary. But given the choice in the national election he cast his ballot for the New York businessman because of Trump’s pro-life stance.
He admitted that people voted for Trump for a variety of reasons – economic, social, political – but in reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, he stressed that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.
He then expressed his approval of 9 of Trump’s 16 cabinet choices being Christians, but expressed disappointment with newly-appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s push to open the Boy Scouts to homosexuality.
Cabinet appointments “are better than what we could have had”
“Overall I’m pleased with the appointments; they are better than what we could have had [with Hillary Clinton].
He also agreed with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s view to interpret the Constitution “the way it was written, not rewrite it.”
“A lot of people, like me, chose the candidate who was more friendly to pro-life [causes] and marriage between one man and one woman. I do not support many of the things Trump has said, especially what he has said about women. But he was the best choice that we had [in this election cycle].”
Gaines stressed that he prayed for Barack Obama and his family by name virtually every day for his eight-year term.
“I doubt that I missed 30 days during his time as president. I prayed for Michelle and Malia and Sasha, even though most people I know don’t even know his daughters’ names.”
“I’m now praying for Donald Trump with that same commitment.”
He admitted that he does not understand how God works in the electoral process, saying only that “He raises some up and puts others down. I just want the Lord’s Will to be done.”
“God is not American, Republican, or Democrat”
Concerning the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s Executive Order on immigration, Gaines said, “at some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.
“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country.
“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.”
Seek national security but do not turn your back on refugees
“On the other hand, I do not want us to be guilty of the European nations who, at the onset of World War II, refused to let refugees into their countries.
“How can your heart not go out to those people who are today fleeing fom wars and violence? We need to remember that at some level we are all immigrants to America.”
Gaines said he has “no problem with a wall” on the nation’s border with Mexico but he does have a problem “when we are not compassionate to hurting people who are fleeing intolerable living conditions.”
Concerning the controversy surrounding Russell Moore, he said he hoped there would be less divisive talk coming out of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he added.
Easier to criticize people without talking to them first
Gaines then explained how easy it is to criticize people without talking to them first. He then gave examples of how he kept an open mind during the run-up to the presidential election and was criticized for supporting one candidate or the other when he was only seeking to be informed on the issues.
“My family and I were in New York City when Trump announced his bid for the presidency. I went down to hear him with about a thousand other people; I would have gone if it had been Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. I did not think Trump was the best candidate but I went anyway to listen to him. A few years earlier I met Obama at a prayer breakfast,” he added, explaining that is who he (Gaines) is – keeping an open mind and seeking information from all sources.
But his listening to Trump that day did not keep the critics from complaining about the message he was sending by attending the event. That was unfortunate, he added.
Regarding the amicus brief about the New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before signing the document again.
“David Platt is a good man. He loves Jesus.”
“I know from being a pastor that there are times when you make decisions without asking a lot of people for their input. I know David’s heart; he is a good man. He loves Jesus. And I believe that is exactly what happened.
“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [in favor of the city granting permission to the congregation to build the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.”
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical justification for churches to tithe 10 percent of their receipts to the Cooperative Program, regardless of how good the missions support program is. Churches today have a lot of their own ministries and are doing a wonderful job of reaching their communities for Christ. Those ministries should not be sacrificed for giving to the Cooperative Program through their state conventions.
He admitted that his own church, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, does not give 10 percent but he and his wife, Donna, are still motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.
State conventions should not be required to split receipts 50/50
He also noted that he did not feel all state conventions should be mandated to give half of their receipts to the Cooperative Program (as encouraged through the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Report). Some conventions, such as those in the Western states, have far less income and need much of their funds to support their own work in sparsely-populated locales where churches are few and far between.
Gaines, now 59 and with it being “a long time” since he was a Millennial, said he is optimistic the younger generation will become more active in SBC life.
He recounted that he remembered in his early ministry days how his spare time was taken up with raising his children and giving attention to his wife and family; there was simply no time for denominational involvement.
“I did not go to state conventions regularly and was even less involved on the national level, even up to the time when I became president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. But I do believe that this new, younger generation will respond when we older men reach out to them.”
State conventions should be proactive, reach out to Millennials
“State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them, cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”
Looking to the future of the nation, he spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. He learned through his mentor, the late legendary Southwestern Seminary professor Roy Fish, that such events occur roughly every 70 years.
“The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”
The next decade will be the most important in the history of the nation, he added.
“Just look at the election we have just been through. America is divided. I have never seen such an election in my 40 years of voting. I am praying for a mighty revival, a movement of God, on our land.”