A general sentiment among those raised in the past forty, maybe fifty years, is expressed clearly by Derek Webb in his song, “A King and a Kingdom”:
There are two great lies that I’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him
A younger generation (that isn’t so young anymore) has cast off, or attempted to cast off, the lie referenced by Webb above. They’ve done so by more readily voting third party or Democrat, and they’ve certainly done so by distancing themselves from right-wing rhetoric, the Republican Party, and without a doubt, the current President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.
The issue back then was plain enough: an older generation acted as though we should all support particular political parties and platforms and persons or else our Christian witness was in jeopardy, if not the salvation of our souls, and we weren’t buying it, because it wasn’t – and still isn’t – in the Bible. For that reason, and some others, the Moral Majority left a bad taste in our mouths. But we shouldn’t miss that the Moral Majority was founded in 1979, which just so happens to be the birth date of the Conservative Resurgence as well. We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t believe that the CR and MM were in many ways connected to one another. The architects and others involved in the CR were political conservatives. This doesn’t mean, as is so often the assumption in current discourse, that the CR was thereby tainted, or that the political conservatives were wrong. Let’s not beg the question in favor of leftist politics. But that was then. What about now?
In 2016, pastors and their congregations didn’t match on the question of what to do about Donald Trump. Plenty of 1689ers opposed him. Many were Never Trumpers. They continue to call out his unseemly moral character, even if they intend to vote for him in 2020. True, some Southern Baptists like Robert Jeffress and Jack Graham do appear particularly well-poised to promote Trump in potentially problematic ways in order to influence government. One could see where, for example, the promotion of a false prosperity pastrix like Paula White is “all about Trump.” (Then again, the current SBC President, J.D. Greear, is tweeting out Christine Caine’s endorsement of his book, so maybe not.)
Nevertheless, those spearheading what is believed to be a new Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention have been accused, repeatedly, of wanting to make the SBC all about Trump. They’re accused of wanting to keep people down when they stand in the way of a supposedly radical right-wing agenda. They’re accused of wanting to turn the SBC into a powerful right-wing voting bloc. (One wonders how much of an impact that would make on everything anyway.) Never Trumpers and those who suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome are often quick to condemn those with whom they disagree as diehard, Make America Great Again Trump supporters, sometimes rightly, but other times even when those people are not, in fact, Trump supporters, much less fanatics for MAGA. It seems as though anyone who questions whatever the reigning narrative is in whatever form or fashion, is automatically dismissed as a Trump shill.
This phenomenon exists outside of Southern Baptist and Christian circles as well. The politically liberal atheist James Lindsay complains, “that zero ‘reputable’ left outlets will invite debate and that anyone who sets a foot rightward is ‘a tool for the right,’ ‘gateway drug to the alt-right,’ etc. It’s an intentional bad-branding strategy.” Lindsay continues, “Once we started talking to conservative outlets [about the Grievance Studies Affair], as no one else was calling, we started getting smacked with accusations that persist to this day that it was clearly a conservative stunt, despite all three/four of us holding progressive liberal ethical and policy positions. We avoided a ton of right-wing media too. Various Fox shows called us over and over and over again to get us on, and save one call-in somewhat later by Peter to Greg Gutfeld’s show, we avoided it completely. Result: still ‘far right’ and much less reach.” Lindsay explains, “Had we gone on any of those shows, what would have happened? We all know. ‘Tools for the right,’ ‘closet Trump supporters,’ etc. The game is to push people into it and then make it stick, knowing that association is a devastating weapon in today’s idiotic climate.”
We are told over and over again that 81% of white evangelicals voted for DJT. Obviously, a good number of those were in the Southern Baptist Convention. By the way, when won’t the SBC be loosely aligned with one political party or another? What is the magic number we’re looking for to make everybody feel at home? Is it 50% voting Republican and 50% voting Democrat? The idea that the SBC has sold out to any one political party or candidate simply because a majority apparently vote one way or another is a strange one indeed. Are we really to believe that Southern Baptists should not be so earthly as to exercise their right to vote?
We get it. You don’t like the current President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. Or maybe you do. We won’t revisit why that is, in either case. We will assume the reasons are plain, and concede them, and move on, because that’s not the point of this post. Some conservatives opposed Trump in the primaries. Some opposed him after that. Some became Never Trumpers. Others sunk into the unending depths of TDS. TDS is real, whether it comes from the right or the left. If that makes you angry, then you’re probably suffering from it. But I digress.
The very same people who incessantly lecture others concerning the moral character of Trump exhibit an almost continuous list of character flaws themselves. If voting for Trump is thought to be a litmus test for Christian fidelity on the right, acting on the immediate need to disparage anything that even approximates a positive word about the man or his party is certainly a mark of orthodoxy on the left. Christians who bemoan Trump’s manners highlight fringe figures who “idolize” Trump and talk about how evangelicals love him more than Jesus. Meanwhile, they chase a utilitarian ethic where almost any sort of slight is acceptable so long as it’s in the service of downing Donald Trump and his supporters. If the right loves Trump more than they love Jesus, then the left hates Trump more than they love Jesus.
One must not underestimate the power of TDS to absolutely break a person. An individual, thus broken, will begin to see the world and everything in it as either for Trump or against him. Christians are not immune to this problem. Books and articles from evangelicals illustrate the difficulty of finding anyone who doesn’t understand everything in the world through this extrabiblical, and at times unbiblical, lens. Just the other night I Googled the name of a prominent Baptist professor next to the name of the POTUS and received as a result, not fifteen articles, which would be a lot, but fifteen pages of results! I simply cannot imagine being so obsessed with DJT as an academic, and certainly not as a Christian. John Piper’s famous seashell illustration comes to mind here, except instead of seashells, we’re talking about a massive collection of anti-Trump articles. Of course, sometimes the Never Trumper or TDS sufferer is on to something, and Trump supporters generally know that as well.
Far from seeing Trump as a savior, many Southern Baptists see him as unsaved. Trump isn’t a pastor, but he probably isn’t even a believer, so what should we expect in terms of his behavior? Imagine hating an image bearer so much that all you write about for five years is the spiritual and moral degeneracy of a man who does not know Jesus Christ. Have you ever considered that an adulterous doctor might nevertheless be a skilled medical practitioner? Or that your atheist mechanic is not incapable of addressing your engine problem? You see, we don’t practice these principles that supposedly apply to presidential candidates anywhere else in life. You may think Trump is a moral monster who is thereby disqualified from holding the highest office in the land, but that hasn’t prevented you from shipping your children off to public school to be taught by pagans.
So the moral argument against Trump fails. The perpetual outrage is utterly unpersuasive. Most people realize that difficulty. What about the racism argument? If a vote for a Democratic candidate like Joe Biden is an expression of love for our minority neighbors, then Christians who vote third-party shouldn’t get off the hook so easily. Third party voters are, in this scenario, every bit as bad as those who vote for Trump instead of Biden. They’re using their ‘white privilege’ to practically remove themselves from the political process for the sake of their own piety, rather than voting in solidarity with their minority brothers and sisters. And yet, this argument, which follows just fine from the premises proffered in the world of progressive politics, is often overlooked. So what’s going on? A lot.
For one thing, we live in a leftward leaning society. Anything to the right of the most progressive people gets discounted as support for Donald Trump. And since DJT is supposedly so hateful, the natural response is – well – hatred. Hatred for the President. Hatred for the Vice President. And hatred for those who might even seem to support them. I regret to inform you that much of the fuss over DJT in particular is a distraction from what is really at stake in the United States of America and in the Southern Baptist Convention. Coleman Hughes recently came out with a video in which he expresses his support for Joe Biden and explains why. In his view, the social justice movement is more about ideology than any one political figure or election. And, although Trump banned Critical Race Theory from being forced upon federal employees, the rise of CRT has taken place while he was President.
The same is true with respect to what faces us in the SBC. Whether one votes for DJT or some third-party candidate is a much smaller battle only remotely related to the ideological war threatening every institution in our government, culture, and convention. The push back supposedly stemming from “fundamentalist” quarters reminds the moderates, who are actually liberals, of other instances where such movements have organized and taken over particular religious, political, and governmental groups. At least, that’s something like what Molly Marshall would say back in the 90’s. Moderates mimic her rhetoric today because they are her ideological sons and daughters. The DJT phenomenon is thus part of a greater ploy to turn conservatives against themselves.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before. The issue in the early 2000’s was Calvinism. Leftover liberals in the SBC, and outside, would identify their ideological enemies as “Mohler’s Boys” and warn Arminian-leaning or Biblicist members in the SBC of encroaching Calvinism. They weren’t always wrong about the problems associated with ‘New Calvinism’ and the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ by the way, as the election of Greear, among many other things, has shown. Greear was seen as a Calvinistic candidate for SBC president, but has really proven himself to be more progressive in public, at the very least in terms of his rhetoric. The problems with the New Calvinism and YRR are discussed at length here and here as well. But I digress. The progressives are at it again. Why else would you write this piece, with this title, the way it is written? You see, the idea is to raise our ire about Baptist Calvinists again. Thankfully, that’s not going to work this time. Even the Conservative Baptist Network seems willing to work alongside the Calvinists of the Convention in an attempt to save it. That organization resolved in a month what it took the SBC ten years or more to even address. The woke threat to the Southern Baptist Convention is such that the most extreme Calvinists and their Arminian opponents are willing to join forces to oppose that which threatens the fundamentalist backbone of our Baptist heritage.
In ideological warfare, one must divide the other side so as to conquer. This route to obtain power should be common sense to us by now. And it’s all the more reason that the various sides in the Calvinism debate are doing right by God and neighbor in (at least temporarily) laying down their arms against one another and joining forces to oppose more obvious threats instead. Liberals try to take advantage of the Calvinism controversy to sow division between those who agree on the inerrancy of the Bible. They also use the DJT debate as just such a popular front, only this one is much more dangerous for any number of reasons. The armies of those outside the SBC, whether theological or political in nature, have it out for the SBC. An attempt to capture her institutions begins with a move to sway the hearts of her people, and they have done an excellent job at doing exactly that.
By forming an alliance with those inside the SBC who oppose Trump on moral grounds, the liberal opposition creates a common enemy, uniting what would have otherwise been conservative voices with leftists, both theologically and politically construed. The political approach is more brilliant here because the political theology of the SBC as a whole is so woefully underdeveloped except as it pertains either to the Moral Majority or some of its children who outright reject it as explained at the beginning of this post. In any event, progressives are cropping up within the SBC because of their shared interest in hating Trump with leftists outside of the SBC. This type of strategy is exactly how you take over a conservative organization like the SBC. Identify a common enemy, join hands with middle-way members inside, and once these progressives have obtained more power, purge all remaining vestiges of principled conservatism.
So unfortunately we cannot get away from secular politics in our Southern Baptist Convention, because they threaten to rip us to shreds, not because of Trump, but because of the popular front. We are playing into the hands of secular Marxists who place politics above religion and statism above the SBC. That’s a threat to all of us, not just Trump supporters, or Never Trumpers, or even the SBC alone. Trump won’t be the deciding factor in whether or not the SBC divides, but he could come to constitute the irritant in a popular front whereby an otherwise Bible-loving, mission-minded cooperative body known as the Southern Baptist Convention was brought down.