I’m old enough to remember when Southern Baptist leaders really and truly cared about the character of public officials. The year was 1998, Bill Clinton had sullied the Oval Office with a tawdry affair, and the Southern Baptist Convention passed a Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials. It’s a powerful document — an eloquent and true statement of Christian truth. Some highlights, first from the “whereas” clauses:
WHEREAS, Some journalists report that many Americans are willing to excuse or overlook immoral or illegal conduct by unrepentant public officials so long as economic prosperity prevails; and
WHEREAS, Tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment (1 Kings 16:30; Isaiah 5:18-25)
And now, from the resolutions:
Be it further RESOLVED, That we implore our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character; and . . . Be it finally RESOLVED, That we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.
That was then, when the Clintons were in charge. Now it’s time to Make America Great Again. New standards apply.
At least that’s what I’m taking from much of the criticism leveled at my friend Russell Moore, the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Moore, you see, is under fire for consistently imploring Christian leaders to apply the Southern Baptist Convention’s own standards to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Some pastors are angry that Moore called out Christian leaders who sacrificed principle for access to power. They want their pound of flesh. They want to punish the ERLC with reduced funding. Some even want to see it destroyed.
Moore did not condemn individual Christians who walked into the voting booth and made the hard choice to support either major-party candidate for president. Instead, he made the point that in excusing or rationalizing Trump’s actions – especially his sexual misconduct – Christian leaders were harming the church’s witness for the sake of short-term political gain.
He was right.
While political races are undoubtedly important, the church’s business isn’t politics, and even short-term political wins can be long-term spiritual losses if the church “wins” at the expense of its moral credibility. There are Christians who made good arguments for voting for Trump, including the argument that Clinton’s cultural extremism rendered a vote for Trump nothing more and nothing less than a vote in self-defense, but none of those arguments rationalized sin or applied double standards for Trump’s benefit.
Moore has been unapologetic, consistent, and courageous in his defense of life, religious liberty, and biblical sexual morality. He has been consistent in calling for Baptists to apply the same standards to the GOP nominee that they applied to Clinton. In other words, he’s been doing exactly the job that he was hired to do
I’m a Presbyterian, not a Southern Baptist, but Christians need the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to stand clearly for biblical truth regardless of political party. Its 1998 resolution should stand not just the test of time, but also the test of partisan politics.
To quote the SBC to the SBC, when leaders tolerate serious wrong, “God’s judgment” is at stake. Are pastors really going to punish a Baptist for holding the church to its own convictions?