Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The BGCT and Local Church Autonomy

Recently the Baptist General Convention of Texas moved to disfellowship two member churches: Wilshire Baptist Church of Dallas and the First Baptist Church of Austin (story from The Baptist Standard). After more than a century of affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, my church is no longer a part of that convention and belongs instead to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In some way, this dispute pertains to other people's networks and affiliations and is none of my business.

There are other ways, however, in which the impasse among the BGCT, FBC Austin, and Wilshire are subjects upon which I ought to comment, not so much as a pastor of an SBTC-related church but rather as a student of Baptist denominational polity.

Both FBC Austin and Wilshire Baptist have alleged that the BGCT has violated their autonomy as local churches. Such accusations are pretty much boilerplate language when churches find themselves disfellowshipped from conventions or associations. Actually, the mechanism of disfellowshipping preserves rather than denudes the autonomy of local churches. All of the other local churches affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas possess the autonomous right to determine whether they do or do not wish to be affiliated with FBC Austin and Wilshire Baptist. They have made their choice. FBC Austin and Wilshire Baptist do not have the right to drag the other BGCT churches into the world of welcoming and affirming homosexuality. After all, the other churches of the BGCT are not taking away these two churches' property or terminating the churches' pastors or editing the churches' statements of faith (which all would be actual violations of local church autonomy). They are simply acknowledging that two autonomous churches have freely adopted beliefs that put them outside the parameters of affiliation with the other dozens of churches who pointedly disagree with these two churches. I think that the churches of the BGCT had good reasons for moving to disfellowship these two churches, but whether conventions and associations disfellowship for good reasons or bad ones, when they do so, the majority of churches in the convention are exercising their own autonomy, not depriving the disfellowshipped churches of their autonomy. This is a reliable general principle.

However, that general principle notwithstanding, there is something peculiar about the situation over at the BGCT, and although it is not a violation of the principle of local church autonomy, it does run contrary to the typical Southern Baptist veneration of the local church as the pinnacle of Baptist organizational structures. The disfellowshipping of FBC Austin and Wilshire Baptist Church represents a sort of selective enforcement of sexual orthodoxy at the BGCT by which churches are shown the door for doing things that other entities in the BGCT family can do without the least consequence.

FBC Austin Pastor Dr. Griff Martin comes by his affirmation of homosexuality honestly. He holds four degrees from BGCT-related educational institutions (two from Baylor University and two from Baylor's Truett Seminary). I was a student in Baylor's religion department from 1988-1991, and already at that time professors like Dan McGee were telling us students that homosexual sex was not sinful. Martin's entire course of theological education has come directly from the BGCT through related educational institutions. His wife is also a Baylor grad. His ministerial experience consists preponderantly of service in large and influential BGCT churches.

When it comes to the BGCT, Dr. Griff Martin signed up for the full course, all the way through to a terminal degree.

There's little wonder that after this educational program Martin claims that his church's disregard of what Jesus said about marriage and repudiation of every biblical statement about homosexuality are (rather than the capitulation to culture that we all know this to be) the fruit of "diligent theological work, being guided by the Spirit, meditating on sacred scripture, and hearing the stories and struggles of our own members" (source). I recognize that sentiment, and it isn't difficult to trace. That's what Baylor University's Department of Religion tried to teach me (and failed) back in the 1980s. With Dr. Griff Martin, they succeeded. It's as simple as that.

George Mason has been associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas for years. He has preached the convention sermon for the BGCT. The Baptist Standard, the newsmagazine of the BGCT, highlighted Mason in its "Deep in the Hearts of Texas" feature just a few months ago. When asked to name the people who have been most influential in his life, he identified key names in recent BGCT history such as Charles Wade and Suzii Paynter. His degrees from pre-Conservative-Resurgence SWBTS hearken back to a time when the the BGCT felt itself much closer to SWBTS than when, just a few years later, the convention pledged to block contributing churches' funds from going to SWBTS (the occasion of our church's departure from the BGCT). Mason is, like Martin, someone whose life story is distinctively woven into the warp and woof of the BGCT. Now the man whose biography was featured just months ago in the BGCT's newspaper has been ousted from the BGCT.

So, although I do not agree with Martin's and Mason's sexual ethics, I do sympathize with their joint bewilderment. These men have done nothing more than to go where BGCT-supported institutions have led them to go. Once they arrived, the BGCT has ostracized them. So, what shall we make of this?

A church affirms homosexuality, and the BGCT disfellowships them. A university affirms homosexuality, and the BGCT moves heaven and earth to keep their funding relationships with those institutions. Considering these two realities, I ask you this question: Which is more important to the BGCT, affiliations with local churches or affiliations with universities?

Keep in mind the following realities about Baylor University:

  1. The university changed their student conduct code just last year to remove language explicitly making homosexual sex a violation of the student code of conduct (Washington Post, Texas Tribune).
  2. Although the university claimed that the alteration of the code amounted to mere wordsmithing rather than any actual change in policy, just a year beforehand Brittney Griner revealed that she had openly identified herself as a lesbian to Baylor before she was ever recruited to the university to play basketball and that the only admonitions that she ever received while playing basketball at Baylor was to keep her lesbianism quiet.
  3. Baylor's student newspaper published a full newspaper article about homosexual life at Baylor, naming such students as Adam Short and identifying them as gay. After appearing in national publications as a gay Baylor student and pushing for the university to grant official recognition to the Sexual Identity Forum for three years, Short graduated from Baylor in 2014.
  4. When Baylor amended the student code of conduct, they also dropped "sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault" from the list of explicitly identified sexual sins that are contrary to the code. This year, Baylor has faced the ongoing scandal of rampant sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault on campus (timeline of the scandal as it relates to the Baylor athletic department)
  5. As I mentioned previously, at least some Baylor religion professors all the way back in the 80s were welcoming and affirming homosexuality and advocating that perspective in the classroom.
  6. Even the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a secular newspaper that is not at all what you would call prudish or parochial, called for the BGCT to distance itself from Baylor, but to no avail.
  7. In the comments on this post by Rachel Held Evans, a number of Truett Seminary alumna give us some insight into the climate there, including one's observation that "the students and faculty [emphasis mine] are constantly and thoughtfully raising the [question of whether the Truett student conduct code should sanction homosexuality]."

So I ask you, if a BGCT-related CHURCH were revising their church covenant to remove all specific references to homosexuality, recruiting lesbian staff members, admitting members who proclaimed their homosexuality in articles in national newspapers, fending off sexual misconduct scandals, and openly teaching from a welcoming-and-affirming perspective, what would the BGCT do? I think Griff Martin and George Mason can answer that question for you. But what happens when a BGCT-related UNIVERSITY does such things? In that case, even if the secular media starts to clamor for the BGCT to take disciplinary action against the institution, the BGCT does nary a thing.

Martin suggested in his letter that personnel at the BGCT had mentioned withheld funding, not theological scruples, as their entire rationale for the disciplinary action. I don't doubt that this was a factor, but I cannot allege that greed is the root of the issues. The fundamental problem at the BGCT remains unchanged: At the BGCT, the tail wags the dog and the institutions, not the local churches, come first. Griff Martin and George Mason are wrong about Christian sexuality and they are wrong about local church autonomy, but they are 100% right that something is wrong with the way that the BGCT relates to its affiliated churches, especially as compared to the way that they relate to their supported institutions.

If member churches of the BGCT are concerned about the direction of the convention, next year they should introduce motions to call their related universities and other entities to operate within the confines of The Baptist Faith & Message (in its most recent revision). If they do not do that, or something like it, they will soon discover how little and late are their attempts to compel the forthcoming graduates from the BGCT's theological institutions to set aside upon entering ministry in BGCT churches everything that the BGCT paid for them to be taught.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How to Replace Scalia

Donald Trump is President of the United States. Most of my friends who voted for him did so first and foremost so that Trump would pick the successor to Antonin Scalia. They want the same sort of replacement that I want—someone like Scalia; they just had more confidence in Trump than I had about whether we will get that.

If Donald Trump is serious about providing a more Constitutionalist Court, here's how I think he should go about it.

First, we have to acknowledge that the GOP does not hold a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. A president nominates people to the Supreme Court, but he has to have the consent of the Senate before a justice can be installed. Senatorial confirmation is going to be difficult to achieve. Democrats will find justification for a filibuster in the GOP's refusal to conduct hearings on Obama's nominee Merrick Garland. Count on the Democrats to filibuster.

Donald Trump should put forward a nominee from his list. He should choose first the person on that list whom he least likes, because the first nominee is doomed. I'm going to guess that Trump will nominate Cruz. The Democrats will be apoplectic. They will fight hard against him. The GOP senators will not fight hard for him, because they don't like Ted Cruz. Cruz would be my favorite nominee, but there's no way Ted Cruz gets past the Senate to join the Supreme Court.

After his first nominee is defeated, Trump should put forward another nominee from his list. Then another. Then another.

The Democrats can get away with blocking one nominee or maybe even two, but eventually it becomes politically dangerous to continue to filibuster nominee after nominee after nominee. If I were Donald Trump, I'd save the nominee I liked best for my third or fourth nomination, and then I'd push hard for that one.

Invoking the "nuclear option" is going to be a big temptation. Trump will push for the GOP Senate to do so. But that's a very risky play, because the odds of losing GOP majorities in Congress at the midterms is significant, and at that point the GOP is going to be happy that the filibuster is still an option.

The worst potential outcome would be this: After a couple of nominees from his list fail to clear the Senate, Trump compromises and nominates a moderate to the court, which is pretty much the same thing as nominating a Lefty, as Associate Justice Kennedy has taught us. Donald Trump hates losing, loves winning, and is prone to change his ideology on a whim. Let's pray that doesn't happen, because the stakes are high for the unborn, for religious liberty, and for the legitimacy of our American government in the face of a Supreme Court that long ago left the Constitution behind.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Realignment for Pro-Life Victory

Foreword: I do not write today to change how you will vote on November 8. Go for it. Vote your conscience. God bless you. If you think you can't read this without interpreting it as voting advice, then please stop right here, bookmark the page, and come back to it November 9 if you don't drink a cup of hemlock that morning. It's already November 9 in my heart, so I write this entirely from that perspective.

I am pro-life.

That sentence has shaped my politics for my entire adult life, and I make no apologies for that. Other political questions are important, but this is the only political issue that kills the population of Elizabeth, New Jersey, every day (approximately 125,000 people). This is the only political issue that involves a taxpayer-funded organization butchering up people and selling their parts for experimentation. This is the political issue for which, when God's judgment falls upon our nation, we will have no choice but to acknowledge that it is just.

My pro-life convictions have shaped my politics, as I said above, for my entire adult life. The 2016 elections have changed that, if at all, only by intensifying it. I will be voting third-party this year, and I will be doing so not in spite of my pro-life convictions, but because of them. I write that not to change your vote but to explain mine.

My Objective

My objective is that abortion-on-demand be illegal in every corner of the United States of America unless the baby poses a biological threat to the mother's health. For me, what it means to be pro-life is that the reversal of Roe v Wade is only the start. After we set aside juridical fiction in favor of the Constitution, each state will be free to determine its own abortion law. I'm not satisfied with that. I want an amendment to the United States Constitution saying something to the effect of "No state shall make or enforce any law abridging the right of every human being from the moment of his or her conception to live."

Do you think that's crazy? Do you think I'm dreaming? The abolition of slavery was once such a dream, and now look where we are.

Part of why that goal may seem crazy to you is that in my lifetime we've elected Reagan, Bush, and Bush, who have in turn nominated several Supreme Court justices, but we are farther away from protecting the legal rights of the unborn today than we ever were before. Why is it that every election Democrats win seems to turn out to give more protection to the abortion lobby, while every election Republicans win seems to, at the very most, maintain the status quo? Some frustrated voters seem to think it is because Republican elected officials lack pluck, sagacity, drive, or (worst of all) sincerity when it comes to pro-life causes.

What they really lack, I think, is votes.

Republicans win the White House occasionally. The GOP sometimes controls the House, sometimes controls the Senate, sometimes controls both, sometimes controls neither. But when a Republican moves into 1600 Pennsylvania, only some of the votes that put him there were pro-life votes. Others are country-club Republican votes from the Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP. When the GOP controls the Senate, it's always with razor-thin margins that count on people like the former Senator Olympia Snowe who are not pro-life. Some pro-life Republicans win in pro-choice districts by minimizing their pro-life stance, which makes it hard for them to take controversial pro-life stands once in office. A GOP majority doesn't always mean a pro-life majority. We don't make forward progress primarily because we don't have the votes at the federal level.

OK. Up to this point, you probably already knew all of that. But here's something maybe you didn't know: One reason we don't have enough votes is because in every election a number of pro-life votes go to the Democrats (a YUGE number this year). The best hope for the pro-life movement to go forward is to get all of the pro-life people in the United States of America together on the same page so that the true strength of our movement will be counted.

Now, as I said before, my pro-life convictions shape my politics. This is the number-one priority for me. I'm prepared to put every other single last thing aside in order to win on this issue. That's why it breaks my heart so much to see the pro-life movement being thrown into the trash in favor of building a wall on the Mexican border. Here's how that's happening.

Let's Plug the Leak

The latest data from Lifeway Research shows that fewer than half of those Americans who hold Evangelical beliefs will actually vote for Donald Trump. A large percentage of this voting bloc will hold pro-life convictions, even though only 4% list abortion as the top factor driving their votes (Note: I realize that another sizable contingent of the pro-life movement is Roman Catholic). It's safe to say that the vast preponderance of these Evangelical Christians hold stronger pro-life convictions than does Donald Trump. The low prioritization of pro-life convictions among the electorate may reflect the fact that neither of the candidates care about protecting unborn life, anyway. It's hard to tell a pollster that pro-life convictions were the primary factor shaping your vote when there are no pro-life candidates on the ballot.

I know, I know, at this highly polarized moment someone is going to want to come on here and say how fervently pro-life Donald Trump is and accuse me of being misinformed. Before you do that, just go read his acceptance speech. Go read his stump speech. Go read his Twitter account. I know people with laryngectomies who are more vocally pro--life than Donald Trump is. The point here is not whether you think he can be pressured into acting pro-life, and I'm not trying to change your vote. I'm simply trying to point out that even if you think Donald Trump is inwardly pro-life, you've got to admit that he hasn't campaign on the basis of that hardly at all (if any).

That is a big reason why he is getting so shockingly few Evangelical votes.

Now, 15% of those Evangelical voters remain undecided, and it is possible that those voters will break more for Donald Trump than for any other option in the end, but still, if this poll is accurate, millions upon millions of pro-life votes will go to Hillary Clinton in this election cycle. Why is that? We're leaking pro-life votes to the pro-death, pro-abortion, pro-carve-em-up-and-sell-their-parts Democrats. Where is that leak, and how do we plug it?

The Lifeway survey has the answer for us.

The GOP has managed to consolidate only one portion of the Evangelical vote—the WHITE Evangelical vote. Ethnic Evangelicals agree with you about Jesus, agree with you about the Bible, agree with you about the sanctity of life, agree with you about the Golden Rule, and agree with you about serving the widow and the orphan. The broader Evangelical vote is the voting bloc most reachable on the pro-life question, and the major pro-life strategy up to this point (support the GOP above all else) has been utterly unable to unite the pro-life movement among Evangelicals. Why could that be?

In the Donald Trump candidacy, we get a chance to see the reason why. Black people are not going to vote for Donald Trump. Hispanic voters are not going to vote for Donald Trump. The George W Bush presidency was an exercise in trying to draw Black and Latino voters into the GOP and largely failing; The Donald Trump candidacy is an exercise in trying to drive Black and Latino voters out of the GOP and largely succeeding.

But consider for a moment what it would mean to have all of these Evangelical voters united in the support of life. It would mean comfortable pro-life margins in both houses of Congress. It would mean a greater moral authority behind the pro-life movement. It would mean a softening of the Democratic Party's hardline advocacy of abortion as they panic over losing a once-reliable base (if Black Evangelicals were to bolt from the Democratic Party in favor of Life, they would become more politically powerful than they have ever been in the history of this nation). Remember, we're talking about doubling the pro-life vote, here. That's major.

If you are aware of these numbers and aren't doing anything to try to plug this leak and take these Evangelical pro-life voters away from the pro-death Democratic Party, I question how serious you are about ending the Holocaust of abortion.

A Pro-Life Realignment

As I said above, when I say I'm pro-life, I mean that I'm willing to set aside my political opinions about a wide variety of other matters in order to advance the pro-life movement. I think it is that important. What is it going to take?

This much is clear: It's going to take telling anti-minority elements in the GOP to take a hike. It's going to take our repudiating forcefully any political candidates or leaders who cultivate anti-minority sentiments in this nation. Now, those are the right things to do anyway, but they're all the more important because those people are utterly responsible for giving away half of the Evangelical vote to pro-abortion candidates like Hillary Clinton.

Whatever it takes, I'm prepared to do it. That's how pro-life I am.

Ann Coulter has a different set of priorities. In this election cycle, she infamously tweeted: "I don't care if Donald Trump wants to perform abortions in the White House after [his] immigration policy paper." For Ann Coulter, if saving the lives of 30 million babies every year is of any importance at all, it's a whole lot less important than dragging Abuelita out of her house in the middle of the night and shipping her off to Mexico in chains. It's a whole lot less important than sending the Green Berets to locate the five-year-old girl whose dad signed up with ISIS, line her up against a wall, and execute her. The Green Berets would object to such a war crime, because they are men of honor, but Trump guaranteed us that he would force them to do it over their objections (and then, of course, in Trumpian style, flip-flopped and issued a maybe-retraction). For the Coulters and Trumps, everything else is more important than the pro-life cause. For me, nothing is more important.

Perhaps you'll disagree with some of what I have written. Politics are good for finding where people disagree. But before I leave you, I just want to ask you to do this: After you've read the final words of this essay and after you've responded in whatever way you plan to respond, I want you to look back up at those charts, realize that the pro-life movement has been rendered ineffective in this election and torn asunder, and ask yourself whether you're willing just to accept that or whether you're prepared to take action to fix that problem. If you want to get angry at the Evangelicals who canceled out your vote, realize that they're just as angry at you, and that glaring at one another in anger is not going to save a single baby from the clutches of the abortionist.

For victory to come to the pro-life movement, a political realignment must occur in our national politics. I'd prefer for that realignment to take the form of a movement toward the Republican Party. The present state of the GOP is obviously (and this is math, not opinion) taking us in the opposite direction. A major reorientation of the Republican Party to make it more friendly to Black, Latino, and Asian Evangelical pro-life constituencies is one good way that this could move forward. As I said, that's what I'd prefer.

Or, that realignment could occur somewhere else. It is not possible in the Democratic Party. You'd be more likely to birth a pro-life movement in the executive suite at Planned Parenthood than at the DNC national headquarters. Well, actually, those are pretty much the same thing, so…. Anyway, no pro-life movement can possibly take place within the confines of the Democratic Party. Perhaps it will require the ascendancy of an issue-oriented third party like the Prohibition Party of the late 1800s and early 1900s (OK, actually, it still exists, but that was its heyday). The Prohibition Party accomplished Prohibition without ever winning the White House. That's right: They lost every Presidential election (Herbert Hoover doesn't count) and yet not a single vote for the Prohibition Party was wasted, since it entirely accomplished its objective. One way that a third party can be effective is by the way that its existence forces the other two political parties to change.

Although I'd prefer that the GOP be the party to unite all pro-life Americans, I'm prepared to align with whatever form this movement takes.

Conclusion

If you're planning to overturn Roe v Wade without the help of anybody but white people, how's that working for you? If you're planning to get Black, White, Latino, and Asian pro-life Evangelicals together behind Donald Trump to overturn Roe v Wade, let me know how that turns out. But if, on the other hand, you're serious about ending the horrors of abortion—serious enough to look at the numbers and take action—then it is time to contemplate what we're going to change on November 9 so that things turn out differently—better—next time.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Let's Not Miss the Most Important Point about Donald Trump's Scandalous Week

Nobody entered this week thinking that Donald Trump was sexually moral at all. The crudity and foulness of his banter about despoiling women bring absolutely no new information to the table about how Donald Trump treats women or treats his own body. These are things that we all already knew long ago.

And yet, from my friends who plan to vote for Trump, most of whom seem a little defensive tonight, I read rebuttals along the lines of "I'm thankful that my past talk about women isn't being played back" or "What about grace and forgiveness?" or even "I'm not voting for a pastor-in-chief." But—and I write this earnestly and cordially—I think you're missing the most important point.

To make my point, permit me to summarize what is, in my opinion, the best argument that can be made to appeal to people to vote for Donald Trump:

  1. Hillary Clinton will most certainly make bad Supreme Court appointments. This is an indisputable point. She promises to do so. We should take her at her word.

  2. Donald Trump promises that, if elected, he will make very good Supreme Court appointments. This also, by the way, is an indisputable point. He promises to do so. But here's the question: Should we take Donald Trump at his word?

The entire case in favor of voting for Donald Trump comes down to whether we can and should trust a promise that he has made about Supreme Court appointments. And it is at precisely this point that "character matters." What do the events of the past week tell us about how much trust we should put in Donald Trump's promises?

One reason that several of my friends have given for trusting Trump's promises is that Vice President Mike Pence (if elected) will make sure that President Donald Trump (if elected) will do the right thing in appointing Supreme Court justices. This week has given us reason to doubt that promise because it has shown us how little respect Donald Trump has for Mike Pence. We already knew that Donald Trump wasn't enthusiastic in selecting Pence, and this week we watched as Donald Trump reacted to Mike Pence's masterful debate performance first with jealousy and then with self-serving petulance. Come face-to-face with the facts: Donald Trump doesn't view Mike Pence as a trusted advisor. Trump doesn't respect Pence. Trump sees Pence as, at best, a competitor for the limelight. Notions that a successful Trump will hand over the reins on his most lasting and consequential decisions to Vice President Pence are the stuff of fantasy.

Then came two days of released recordings in which Donald Trump has talked about his sex life. Donald Trump talks about his sex life a lot—or, at least, he used to talk about his sex life a lot, before he commenced his presidential run. That he beds women left-and-right is a point of great personal pride for Donald Trump, and a shelter to which he runs when he feels insecure (see the anecdote at the beginning of this article, for example).

Donald Trump doesn't just sleep around; this is a part of his life about which he is particularly proud of himself.

And in this week's released recordings, we hear Donald Trump talk about the lengths to which he went in his attempts to seduce a married woman to get her to commit adultery with him. He knew she was married. She knew she was married. He himself was married at the time. He took her to shop for furniture. He "moved on her very heavily."

This is what Donald Trump brags about doing. He sees this as his skill set.

Now set aside for a moment that this story was about sex. We've had some good presidents in our nation's history who were sexually immoral before, during, and after their presidencies. Put the sex part of it completely away, and what do you have? Donald Trump prides himself in his ability to convince people to do things that are contrary to their values, that break commitments that they have made, and that obligate him not one bit.

I submit to you that Donald Trump, who has previously been very clearly on the record in support of Planned Parenthood, who has previously been very clearly on the record in support of liberal Supreme Court justices, who has previously been very clearly on the record in support of same-sex marriage and men in the women's restrooms and a whole host of other positions that generally have been contrary to what you, my Donald Trump supporting friends, have always believed—I submit to you that Donald Trump is at this moment "[moving] on" YOU "very heavily."

THAT is the most important revelation about Donald Trump's character from this week. Read a page from the Donald Trump playbook and recognize what he is doing to you. He's trying to woo YOU, now, my Evangelical friends! He's making appealing promises to you. He knows what matters to you. He tells you what you want to hear. He's trying very hard to seal the deal. You are being seduced.

But Even If That's True…

"But even if that is true," perhaps someone will reply, "don't we STILL have to support Donald Trump so we can stop Hillary Clinton?"

No. We don't. People make that calculation, from what I can see, primarily when they add up the costs of a Clinton presidency without adding up any of the costs that come along with supporting Donald Trump. But supporting Donald Trump costs us some things. Here are a few:

  1. It has already cost us the presidency. Once Trump became the nominee, "President Hillary Clinton" became inevitable. Inevitable. Go to this link and check out the little graph under the heading "RCP Electoral Spread." In Hillary Clinton's best weeks and worst weeks, in Donald Trump's worst weeks and least-worst weeks, there has never yet been a single moment in this election in which Hillary Clinton has not been ahead of Donald Trump in the projected Electoral College result. Trump started behind, ran behind the whole way, and will finish even behinder.

    Let this sink in: On his best weeks, your guy has never been winning. Not for a single, solitary second.

    The one wacky conspiracy theory in this whole election that actually makes sense to me is the idea that Donald Trump has been a Hillary Clinton plant from the get-go. Few are the people I can imagine losing to Hillary Clinton in this election. Donald Trump is one of them.

    Supporting Donald Trump is something you have to do to keep Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency in the same way that standing on the beaches of South Carolina and blowing really hard out to sea is something you had to do to keep Hurricane Matthew from making landfall.

  2. Congratulations! You've lost the Senate for us, too! As Donald Trump's presidential campaign crashes and burns, the casualties include all of those senatorial candidates who knew that they shouldn't endorse Donald Trump and didn't want to endorse Donald Trump but were forced to do so by people who demanded "party loyalty" and made incendiary threats. And as of today, Democrats feel pretty confident that they're going to take back the United States Senate.

    Don't let the significance of this slip by you. We faced the frightening prospect of Hillary Clinton making Supreme Court nominations. We reacted to that prospect out of fear. What has that gotten us? It has gotten us Hillary Clinton making Supreme Court nominations now to be confirmed by a Senate controlled by Democrats. We acted as though with Hillary Clinton running for the Presidency we had nothing to lose. As it turns out, we had quite a bit to lose. We're learning that lesson because we're losing those things now. And if we manage not to lose the Senate, the only way we will hold onto it is if our senatorial candidates can successfully denounce Donald Trump and distance themselves from him.

    Democrats, by the way, are now speaking openly about trying to take the House of Representatives, too. This is just a train wreck.

  3. The GOP is losing every numerically-growing demographic in our electorate, too. This week I've read this blog post from Dwight McKissic. Now, I'll be 100% forthright here—Dwight and I are on different pages politically, and he has done something I could never do: publicly pledged his vote to Hillary Clinton. I'm, I think, quite a bit more of a Republican than Dwight is. But here's the thing:

    The GOP can't win without winning over some people who are less of a Republican than I am. Otherwise, the numbers just do not add up. With Dwight you've got a man who has been a Republican-voting black preacher. Do you realize how much courage that takes? Do you realize how rare that makes him? The numerical viability of social conservatism depends upon making men like Dwight less rare, not more rare. Donald Trump has moved the demographics of the Republican Party in the wrong direction.

    What's more, Dwight McKissic is, by several orders of magnitude, more my brother than is Donald Trump. Dwight and I are both believers. Dwight and I are both pro-life. Dwight and I are both pro-natural-marriage. Dwight and I are both pro-religious-liberty. Donald Trump never even claimed to be any of those things until he "moved on [Evangelicals] heavily." I know for a fact that Dwight has these convictions; I'm pretty sure that Donald Trump has none of them. If you force me to decide whether I am more at home with the politics of Dwight McKissic or the politics of Donald Trump, I'm going to choose Dwight McKissic every time.

    And Dwight is now a Democrat.

    But I don't think Dwight has to be a Democrat. I think a very strong political party could be formed if someone were to unite Evangelicals Black and White with Hispanic Roman Catholics and other elements of the American electorate who are basically pro-family, pro-life, and pro-natural-marriage. In fact, some significant portion of other immigrant populations from regions of the world that are more traditional in their moral values could also become loyal voting blocs for such a political party.

    The GOP's chances of ever being that political party go down with every passing day that the party supports Donald Trump. Donald Trump could never be a part of any political party even remotely like that. Donald Trump's voting bloc doesn't have children above the replacement rate. When you pledge your vote to Donald Trump, defend the bile that he spews forth, and repeat his talking points, you make it harder for the GOP ever to do what it must do to survive.

    There are, I have discovered by briefly coming onto the radar screen of some of the darker neighborhoods of Twitter, some people who would rather be in a losing political party gathered around racial purity than in a winning political party gathered around ideological conviction. I know that you, my friends, are not those people (or else we wouldn't be friends). But I think that you're being seduced into just that kind of a political party, and I hope that you'll stop, look around, and not be fooled.

Donald Trump says of his seductive efforts, "When you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything—whatever you want." Trump has certainly turned on his star-power in his efforts to seduce Evangelicals. Will we let him do it? Can he do anything—whatever he wants—and still count on our political support?

Well, not me. Never me. #NeverTrump.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why I Haven't Put My Sermons Online Before and Am Not Sure I'm Doing the Right Thing Now

Sometimes I feel like the only preacher on the continent who isn't live-streaming and then podcasting his sermons. I'm starting to do it (a little half-heartedly) now. This is surprising to some of the people who know me, because I'm sort of a techie (I can do computer programming in several languages) and I love preaching. By one way of looking at it, I should've been putting my sermons on the Internet fifteen years ago. Here's why I haven't.

  1. I'm not so sure there's much of an audience who (a) wants to hear my sermons and who (b) I care about hearing my sermons.

    1. I'm not trying to move anywhere. I've served FBC Farmersville for seventeen years, and I'm perfectly content to stay here until I'm too old for anyone to let me do this any more. If you have your cap set to go somewhere (and there's nothing wrong with that), then having sermons online helps search committees quite a bit, but there aren't any search committees anywhere whom I am trying to help.
    2. I'm not trying to get my preaching into the hands of the members of other churches. Your churches' members should be listening to you guys. I'm sure that they have some time left over to hear other preachers, but like I said before, every other preacher in North America already has sermons available online, so I'm not sure how big of a void there is to be filled. Also, to speak frankly, I'm not that sure how many of your members have any interest in hearing my sermons.
    3. I have zero interest in encouraging my members to stay at home on Sunday mornings and just catch the service online. For those who are unable to attend, we already take a DVD recording of the service to their homes. We've been doing that for years. I don't want those shut-ins to get the sermon off of the Internet; I want a real-life flesh-and-blood member of our church to talk to them on their doorsteps—or even in their living rooms! For those who are not shut-ins, I don't want to tempt them with the idea of "Oh, it'll be on the Internet tomorrow, so I'll just sleep in now and catch it then."
    4. Now, there is my mother. My mother would be delighted to have my preaching available online, and I'm interested in making it available to her. This is a great development for my mother. You're welcome, Mom.
    5. Perhaps there are some fellow-preacher-friends who would have an interest in hearing some of these sermons, but that leads me to my next point of inner angst:
  2. My preaching is not my blogging. I've been writing online for ten years, give or take. I've gravitated toward several subject areas in my blogging and have developed a bit of an audience for my writing. Generally speaking, I do not preach about the same topics that I cover in my blogging. I aspire to preach text-driven sermons (although I'm better at achieving that in some genres than I am in others). This means that I don't really choose subject matter for my sermons; I take them where the text takes me.

    So, if someone who likes what I write about…say…religious liberty looks and says, "Hey, there's Bart Barber's sermon podcast. I'll bet there is a whole lot of good material there on religious liberty," then that person is destined to disappointment. Religious liberty makes it into my preaching. Perhaps it makes it into my preaching more than the next guy's preaching. But most Sundays I'm not preaching about religious liberty.

    This is all the more true because…

  3. I believe that preaching is a congregational act. I haven't made my sermons available for you people because I DON'T PREACH FOR YOU PEOPLE (no offense intended). I preach for the people of the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, TX. I have them in mind when I write my sermons. I have them in view when I deliver my sermons. There are things that I would do differently when speaking for my blogging audience, and not sharing my sermons online has protected me from the temptation to do those things differently. I want to preach tailor-made sermons to fit my people, not off-the-rack, one-size-fits-all oratory for a generic online audience.

    In a bizarre sense, if I hadn't managed to develop an online writing presence, I might have shared my sermons online a lot earlier (because then there wouldn't be any wider audience to worry about). But knowing the differences between Bart the Southern Baptist Blogger on the one hand and Bart the local church preacher on the other hand, I've made some effort to keep those two worlds from colliding. Not that there's anything in the one that is contradictory to the other, and not that they don't overlap a good bit. It's just that, to say it again in a slightly different way, I don't want the outside world intruding on the local intimacy of my pastoral relationships. I don't ever want to alter our church family's worship service even the slightest bit to accommodate the needs of people who are not in that room.

    Incidentally, this is why I think television preaching isn't any more successful than it is. Yes, there are a few pastors who have managed to build large television ministries, but I wonder how much lasting impact those ministries have. I know that they have some impact—I'm not questioning that. I just wonder whether the television sermon comes anywhere close to exploiting the potential offered by the medium of television. I suspect not. Why not?

    Because the sermon (and the other elements of a worship service) were designed and are empowered by God to be experienced live. The gathering of the body has something to do with the presence of Christ in His power. There's a mystical something missing, I think, when the incarnate sermon is reduced to electrons and phosphors. Made-for-TV programming, in my opinion, fares better. I think Sherwood Baptist's film ministry is the more effective model for screens, while the foolishness of preaching can never be toppled in the milieu for which God designed it: the live gathering of God's people.

You may think that I'm overthinking this. Perhaps that's true. I've finally capitulated to this (a bit begrudgingly) because I've discovered that some of the people in my congregation sometimes want to RE-listen to a sermon after they've heard it on Sunday. Also, some of my people want to share a sermon with a lost person in town. Finally, I know that there's a different kind of "search committee"—the local family searching for a church home. Although it seems pretty easy to me just to attend a service, I've seen convincing data suggesting that families are growing accustomed to checking out a sermon from home via the Internet first. I probably ought to accommodate that desire.

But I don't have to like it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Different Question, A Different Answer, A Different Vote

People come to the #NeverTrump movement for a lot of different reasons. From what I can tell, it is not a monolithic group. Once anyone who has trended Republican declares that he or she will not be voting for the Donald, that person is going to face a lot of questions, some of which reveal the agonizing choice that #NeverTrump represents.

  1. What's going to happen to the country if I vote against Donald Trump? Nobody knows where the polling will stand as we approach November. I think Donald Trump will by then be so far behind Hillary Clinton that it will not much matter how I vote, but I'm prepared to stick by my determination not to vote for Donald Trump even if my one vote were to decide the presidency.

    And yet, I realize that a Clinton presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the nation. Clinton would immediately appoint an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, and make no mistake, when we see whom she nominates, we'll then long for the opportunity to confirm Merrick Garland. With her nominee, the Court will trample on religious liberty, will let everything into your daughter's bathroom, will nullify the Second Amendment, will use cases like some Citizens-United-redux to tip the playing field of elections toward Democrats, and will shoot down any restrictions whatsoever against abortion-on-demand at any stage of development.

    Would a Clinton presidency be good for America? No. A Clinton presidency would be bad for America. And if this is the most important question to you, you'll probably wind up voting for Donald Trump.

    I say this in spite of the fact that all of the available evidence strongly indicates that Trump is not pro-life, is not pro-family, is not pro-real-marriage, is not pro-common-sense-bathrooms, not-pro-religious-liberty, not-pro-Israel. Donald Trump has given no reason to anyone for confidence that his government would be better for America than Clinton's would be, but he contradicts himself frequently enough to leave some hope that he might accidentally land on a good policy or two, whereas Hillary Clinton would be consistently bad.

    I'll admit it: There is a chance that my refusal to vote for Trump might make the difference between President Trump and President Hillary, and there's a chance that the nation could turn out for the worse because of that. If I were asking that question first and foremost (as folks like Mike Huckabee seem to be doing), perhaps I could wind up voting for Trump. And on Facebook, in blog posts, in personal conversations, on the phone, and even standing in line at Wal-Mart, people are asking this question, and pressing it hard.

    But that's not the question I'm asking.

  2. What's going to happen to the Republican Party if I vote against Donald Trump? I don't have to go into lengthy detail here, because I've just written a blog post speculating about the aftermath of a supposed implosion of the GOP. The Republican Party is under strains that it has never seen in my lifetime. People like me who refuse to fall in line behind Donald Trump are the proximate cause of those strains. This situation could lead to the removal of the Convention Chairman. It could lead to an open and ugly break between every living GOP former-President and the new GOP under Donald Trump.

    I think it is far from a foregone conclusion that the GOP is in mortal danger from the conflict of Trump-vs-NeverTrump, but I'm willing to concede that my kind of hardline stand could, if shared by a lot of people, spell the end of the Party of Lincoln. If I were asking that question (as people like Reince Priebus seem to be doing), perhaps I could wind up voting for Trump. And I hear a lot of people asking this question, wondering what will become of the GOP after this year.

    But that's not the question I'm asking.

  3. What's going to happen to my testimony for Christ if I vote FOR Donald Trump?

    That's the question I'm asking. How does it affect the church? How does it affect my testimony? How does it make what I preach more or less credible to a listening world?

    I think that we face precisely the same sort of moment that Billy Graham faced when he became publicly associated with Richard Nixon (here's how that turned out), that W. A. Criswell faced when in 1956 he addressed the South Carolina legislature against racial integration (Criswell later regretted and turned from that mistake), that Richard Furman faced when he tried to justify racism-motivated slavery from the Bible. There are moments that offer us momentary adulation and support from the culture at the cost of our morality, but the other shoe always eventually drops, and then that hideous thing that you once-upon-a-time did becomes the reason why people don't listen to you.

    But it reaches beyond you. Billy Graham is still respected. W. A. Criswell died a hero of the church. But the very thing thrown up into the face of the church by antagonists every time we declare the gospel these days is the way that Christians compromised their consciences during the Civil Rights movement in order to go along with the culture. It somehow affected every other church and every other preacher as much or more than it affected them personally. Robert Jeffress's and Jerry Falwell Jr's careers will probably be fine after this all is over, but I fear that the impression that Evangelicals lined up behind such a hateful thing as the Trump campaign will inflict lingering damage upon all of our efforts.

    So, this is the entire rationale behind my decision not to vote for Trump. I think it hurts the credibility of my testimony for me to be a vocal supporter of a demonstrably evil man whose campaign platform consists mainly of his evilness. It's just really hard for me to see any possible way that supporting Donald Trump furthers the cause of the gospel.

    And because Southern Baptists have generally voted Republican since the days of Ronald Reagan, if we're not vocally opposed to Donald Trump, we'll be counted as Trump supporters by default. For evangelicals to make it unavoidably clear that we are not supporting Donald Trump is something that, in my estimation, will make us more credible henceforth as we tell people about Jesus.

    I'm not saying that nobody else could add it all up differently and come to a different conclusion about the effect upon our testimonies. I'm trying to follow my conscience as best as I can. I guess I'm just trying to explain why appeals to the good of the nation or the good of the party do not persuade me.

I've been asked more times than I can count how #NeverTrump will affect the country. I've been asked more times than I can count how #NeverTrump will affect the GOP. I'm still waiting to be asked how it will affect the churches and my testimony. Apparently, that's not so much at the front of everyone's mind right now.

But shouldn't it be?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

If This Were the End of the Republican Party, Could That Be a Good Thing?

Is the Republican Party dead?

Those who say so are overreaching. The Republican Party still dominates the landscape at the level of the several states. Thirty-one governors are Republican, compared to eighteen Democrats and one Independent. A whopping sixty-eight out of ninety-eight partisan state legislative chambers (remember, most states have two, a senate and a house) are Republican, with Republicans controlling both the governor's mansion and the capitol in twenty-three states. In state government, Republicans have never been stronger.

So, of course, the GOP is not dead. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't call hospice.

Perhaps the worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party would be for Donald Trump actually to win election. As a hypothetical, Donald Trump is one thing. As President of the United States? The odds are significant that the President Trump experience turns out to be so bad that we raise a generation of former Republicans whose passions are as intense as the former Democrats whom Jimmy Carter handed over to the GOP in the late 1970s. We do not have to speculate whether a national politician can be bad enough to eviscerate a party at the state and local level; I've watched it happen in my own lifetime.

"How can you fail to vote for Donald Trump and hand the election to Hillary?" some ask. I retort, "How can you vote for Donald Trump and hand the next five elections to the Democrats."

But even if Trump should lose, there's a widespread sense that the GOP has crossed some sort of a continental divide. For my part, I can say that my relationship with the party has certainly changed in a number of ways.

  1. Who Are These People? For all of my lifetime I've listened to the shrill complaints of Democrats who have alleged time and again that the GOP is the party of various forms of hatred: misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, etc. To my horror and chagrin, I've learned that they weren't entirely wrong. With Donald Trump, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hatred aren't Democrat insults, they're planks in his platform. Yes, he'll moderate his tone in the general election to some degree, perhaps, but nothing Donald Trump can say or unsay in the next few months can ever change the fact that hordes of voters in Republican primaries across the country cast their ballots explicitly for and on the basis of every ugly insult that Democrats have ever made against the GOP.

    Emotions are high in this moment. Those emotions will fade over time, but even when the tide of electioneering emotion has ebbed, there will remain for me (and for a lot of other people, I think) the certain and dispassionate knowledge that most Republican primary voters in this nation are something that I am not. The occasional day arrives when I'm not angry at President Obama. The United States killed Osama bin Laden during his presidency. The United States secured the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini from an Iranian prison during his presidency. On rare occasions, I'm happy with something that President Obama has done. Nevertheless, even in those moments when I'm happy with President Obama rather than disappointed with him, I still always know regardless of my present emotional state that he and I are not the same thing politically. I now know precisely the same thing (and feel precisely the same way) about the Republican electorate.

    Henceforth, even when Republicans do something good, I'll respond by saying, "Isn't that nice what they did over there?" rather than "Isn't that nice what we did over here?"

  2. Thanks for the Memories…I think. In this, the most post-GOP moment I've ever known, I find myself looking around our dorm room to see what I can pack up in boxes to take with me from our sojourn as roommates. There's a thing or two. Ronald Reagan gave us the end of the Cold War. I'm just barely old enough to remember knowing that Russian nuclear ICBMs were aimed within thirty miles of my home. Yes, Vladimir Putin is still out there, but there is no equivalent to the Cold War in the world today. The GOP gave us that.

    Otherwise?

    Republicans in Georgia and Missouri just killed religious liberty bills authored to protect basic liberties that every American enjoyed for 240 years until just months ago. Republican SCOTUS appointees gave us the Smith decision (eviscerating religious liberty and setting up this mess), the Obamacare decision, the Obergefell decision, and every other act and scene in the cautionary tale that is the present state of American jurisprudence.

    If someone tells you that he is a Republican, what do you know about him? Do you know that he is pro-Life? You do not. Do you know that he is pro-Religious-Liberty? You do not. Do you know that he is pro-Natural-Marriage? You do not. Do you know his stance on immigration? No. The Flat Tax? No.

    Anything? No.

    The GOP comfortably contains Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. Republican affiliation no longer means anything.

    The GOP just chose as its nominee a guy who stands for nothing more than his raw desire for power. The startling realization at this moment is how little contrast this action strikes when juxtaposed against the history and state of the national party.

  3. The ABCs of a Failing Party. This morning a significant number of Republican leaders and Christian leaders are already attempting to unify people behind presumptive nominee Donald Trump. The line of argumentation is simple and consistent: Donald Trump is not Hillary Clinton. The moment is frighteningly similar to the dying throes of the Whig Party in the 1850s. The very name of the Whig Party revealed the one thing that unified it: Opposition to "King" Andrew Jackson and the movement he represented.

    The question of slavery fractured the Whig Party because abolitionist Whigs discovered that although they still despised the Jacksonian Democrats, they despised slavery just as much. When that happened, the Whig Party died and the Republican Party was born out of its ashes, realigning voting patterns in ways that endured for more than a century. The Whig Party had nothing to offer other than "At least we're not Democrats," and therefore it died.

    Is ABC (Anyone But Clinton) any stronger of a platform for the Republican Party? Not in any way that I can see. I'm ready to vote FOR someone, not just AGAINST someone. The GOP has finally gone and done it. They've finally managed to fill in the A-blank with an "Anyone" who is utterly unacceptable to me.

    You see, in the past I've been willing to settle for candidates who were weak rather than vote for a Democrat. Now the GOP has advanced a candidate who is evil. Weak and evil are not the same thing. The ABC argument works well to convince me to vote for a weak candidate. It is utterly ineffective to convince me to vote for an evil candidate. Just as Whigs in the 1850s could not overcome their own consciences to vote pro-slavery just to oppose the Democrats, neither can I vote pro-Trumpism just to oppose the Democrats.

    I'm not alone. I cannot recall any time in my life when solidly conservative Republicans like Jason Villalba were writing things like this. The captain may not yet have called "Abandon ship!" but there sure does seem to be a crowd gathering in the vicinity of the lifeboats.

Whether the Republican Party is dead or not, I think that the time is ripe for a new coalition to emerge. I think that a sizable portion of the American populace can be found who want neither the politics of Donald Trump nor the politics of Hillary Clinton. I think it is time to ask whether the death of the Republican Party might offer more opportunities than losses. What are those opportunities?

There is an opportunity to attract to a new party people who will never vote for the Republican Party. Nominee Donald Trump makes it even less likely that Hispanics or Blacks vote for Republican candidates. Until this year this refusal of non-whites to vote for Republicans (even when those Republicans were not white!) has befuddled me. After all, the facts consistently show that Liberal policies are horrible for minorities and for everyone else. Why do people keep voting for the policies that are destroying their communities and subverting their values?

Well, mystery solved: They've apparently made the acquaintance of these people who have championed Donald Trump. They know better than to vote with them.

But what if there were a third party that championed American values? I'm talking about a pro-Constitution, pro-Bill-of-Rights, pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-immigration, pro-business, pro-law-and-order, pro-fair-taxation party. Are there Republicans who would change to support a party like that? I think so. Some would not, thankfully. I'd only be excited about such a party if it were utterly repugnant to Donald Trump and everyone who has excitedly promoted his campaign.

Are there Democrats who would change to support a party like that? I think so. And that's the key to any hope such a party would have for success. It would necessarily fracture the Republican Party and weaken its strength. To succeed, it would ALSO have to fracture the Democratic Party and weaken its strength.

The keys to success here lie in appealing to family values while highlighting liberal overreach (e.g., letting guys pee in the ladies' room), demonstrating that pro-economic-development and pro-law-and-order policies are better for minorities than are liberal giveaways (and "pro-law-and-order" must mean support for a justice system that treats people justly), and absolutely welcoming immigrant communities. By the way, if illegal immigrants posed a threat to American jobs and the American economy, we should expect to see that the worst economies in the country were in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas rather than the Midwestern Rust Belt. Instead, places like Texas are a bright spot on the American economic map.

Could that happen? Could a party like that emerge? I don't know.

But if it did, the demise of the Republican Party would be certain. And when visiting the grave, I wouldn't bring flowers; I'd bring dancing shoes.