Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Thoughts about William J Northen's Article "The Negro Situation—One Way Out"

In the next few days I'll be publishing an episode of "The Plowshare Podcast" that features a conversation with Pastor Dwight McKissic about Race, Politics, and the SBC. In advance of publishing that episode, I wanted to make available this document. It's an essay written in 1907 by William J Northen. Northen had previously served as the Governor of the State of Georgia and separately as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Northen wrote this essay in an effort to curtail the widespread lynching of black Georgians by white Georgians—that's a motive I think we all could affirm. In doing so, he gives the reader a full exposition of his views on race and politics.

I thought that this would be an interesting document to discuss with Dwight for a number of reasons. First, few Southern Baptists have read this document or anything like it. It is part of our history. Reading it gives an opportunity to have an accurate appraisal of our past. This is helpful both for those who would be tempted to deny that we have this history and for those who would be tempted to deny that we have changed and improved.

Second, the clearly articulated white supremacy in Northen's article is something that no prominent Southern Baptist would or could write today. Reading actual white supremacy might help us all to know what it is and be able to identify it. These ideas of white supremacy have waned in the SBC.

Third, the role of politics in the document is striking, and I think this is something that has NOT really changed. Sometimes it feels to me like our racial divides that sometimes emerge in the SBC are as much about politics as they are about theology, and that's exactly what Northen is describing in this article.

If you plan to listen to the podcast, you should probably acquaint yourself with this document.

The Negro Situation—One Way Out

William J. Northen
Ex-Governor of Georgia (1890-94)
Ex-President of the Southern Baptist Convention (1899-1901)

September 1907

The problem of the races is, at the same time, the most irritating in its conditions, the most unpopular for discussion and the most difficult of solution of all the problems that confront the American people.

Definitely the problem is the American adjustment of "the relations which should exist between the white people and the negro people of a common soil and whose welfare, in the last analysis, is a common weal." The Caucasian stands at one extreme and the African at the other extreme of the races. If, by any means, we can adjust the relations of the extremes, we shall settle, in a measure at least, all the problems of the races that come between.

Everywhere, whether together or separate, there seems to be on the part of us all, white and black, an inborn racial antagonism. The opportunity has come to the American people, as to no other, to adjust the relations that will harmonize the antagonisms of all the races. We cannot but believe that God has so intended with all the peoples of the earth, and it seems that he is using us for the uplift of our common humanity. We have the black men in large numbers. The red men we found here. The yellow men are clamoring and will finally get in. All these different ones are His creation and He wants each made complete and perfect in his place. Why may we not come to the task in willing and patient cooperation with all the higher forces that seek to bring joy and gladness out of sorrow and crime?

We have the spectacle of a weak race which lived for ages in wanton sin, in great incapacity and unpreparedness, placed in the dangerous environments of competition with what is strongest, and of association with and imitation of what is weakest and most criminal in the superior race. This is a severe test under the demands of a superior race, having centuries of civilization, in contrast with an inferior race, just beginning to know. "The negro must know that competition is becoming more and more intense and that the burden put upon him is growing heavier, in this advanced century, than he can bear. Unless these conditions are changed, slowly and silently the negro will be hemmed every way within straiter limits, his numbers will decrease and he will be steadily driven to the wall."

The people at the South have made great sacrifices to care for the negro. Vanquished, deep in debt, with a rural and scattered population, cursed with illiteracy, facing the gravest difficulties in every line, needing every available dollar, the South, in order to serve an alien people, severed from her in spirit, opposing her politically, irritating her socially, handicapping her industrially by their indolence and unreliability, arose in her poverty and gave them shelter, bread and educational training, with full opportunities for service that offered thrift and material accumulation.
In order that I may be altogether fair to the negro—I shall endeavor to be fair to the end—let me state some things fundamental and to be remembered, while we attempt the solution of this great problem.

First, the negro is in no sense responsible, as an original factor, for the ills that have come to the American people because of his residence in our community. He did not come to our shores of his own free will and of his own accord. He was abducted from his home, chained and dragged aboard slave-trading vessels and brought to our shores under his protest and through the greatest iniquity that has ever cursed the American people.

Second, we are paying the penalties that are consequent upon the negro's freedom, occurring at a time when the nation was stirred by war and blood and crime. At emancipation he was untutored and unguarded and allowed to roam the fields and country at large. Later, under reconstruction, he turned his liberty into license in crimes that entailed wholesale slaughter and violence. It is not his fault that he was left to the promptings and instincts of his wild and destructive nature without hindrance and without restraint.

Third, if in these conditions he was made a part of the body politic, with all the power of the ballot and the influence of a citizen, no charge can be laid at his door if evil and crime in abundance have resulted. He never sought such relations at the beginning. It was the act of the nation.

If these three statements are true and make the resultant a problem, it must be the white man's problem, and not the problem of the negro. The negro is not responsible for its beginning.

Every free-born American citizen who is a lineal descendant of the original settlers of New Jersey or Georgia, Massachusetts or South Carolina, or any other of the thirteen original colonies, is, either directly or remotely, descended from people who endorsed and encouraged the iniquitous slave trade and the subsequent dealings in human beings as merchandise and chattels. From all these sins the negro is entirely free and the white men of the nation, the entire nation, are responsible.

The settlers in the thirteen original colonies have scattered the negroes into every state in the union. Wherever they go they carry the problem of the races, demanding solution, dependent in its difficulty, primarily, upon the relative number of each race in the community in question.

In Nevada there are thirty-five thousand white people and 134 negroes. In Georgia there are one million one hundred and eighty-one thousand white people and one million and thirty-five thousand negroes. Of all the states Nevada, having the least number of negroes, should have the least difficulty in the solution. As Georgia has a larger number of negroes than any other state in the union, it would seem that Georgia would have the greatest difficulty in effecting a solution. If this basis of solution is correct, Nevada would have only four-tenths of one per cent of difficulty, while Georgia would have eighty-eight per cent of trouble.

A close study of these figures and others like them would necessarily compel the conclusion that Nevada could not be expected to outline an acceptable policy for the adjustment of relations in Georgia, as the problem in Nevada is not at all the problem in Georgia. The same thing can be as forcefully said of all the states, North and South, if put in comparison. If such comparison is made as to race troubles in the states named and others, North and South, terminating in violence, bloodshed, criminal assaults and lynchings, the results, by comparison, would astonish many who are not now informed.

More important than the statements just made is the consideration that the white people and the negroes in Nevada did not undergo the violent shock that came to the white people and the negroes in Georgia immediately after the war. Antagonisms and bitterness and hate were then engendered in Georgia and at the South, which caused a separation of the races that has grown wider and wider apart.

After the war the negroes were promptly made citizens. Since that day the negro at the South has been determined to oppose, politically, everything he believes the white man wants. He is a Republican, an Independent or a what not, merely in order to oppose and fight against anything he knows the white man advocates. To this the white man will not submit in patient endurance without striking back in kind. The negro's polities has strained his relations and largely hindered his opportunities at the South.

In addition to this spirit of intense opposition, born in politics, as just stated, a greater element of our problem is that we find ourselves in the midst of large numbers of negroes who are ignorant and vicious, grossly immoral, self-assertive and almost entirely unrestrained. For these conditions the people at the South do not hold themselves altogether responsible.

It is a great mistake to believe that there is no kind of harmony between the better elements of the races in Georgia and at the South. Quite the contrary is true. The good class of negroes is intelligent, progressive and resourceful. Its religion is not a sham. Its education has not spoiled it and its devotion to duty is not inspired by the "loaves and fishes." Its ideals are good, its social standards high and its life wholesome and elevating. It has been lifted from heathen darkness to its present attainments by the power of the grace of God. If all American negroes were of this class, there would be no "negro problem."

It will be best for all parties if the white man, strong and dominant, will look seriously and sympathetically at the men of the weaker and the dependent race, and seeing them just as they are, intelligently set about aiding them. This is just what we have begun to do in Georgia upon a plan based entirely upon our local conditions, as, in my judgment, all other people must be allowed to do. Before we entered upon our plan in Georgia, there were some things fundamental that were necessary to be settled between the races, at the beginning.

There is a chemistry of humanity as there is a chemistry of fire, water, air and gunpowder, that may result in serious ex plosion if it is not properly understood and wisely handled. All history shows that no two races approaching in any degree equality in numbers, can live peaceably together unless intermarriage takes place or the one becomes dependent upon the other.

Miscegenation by law will never take place at the South. That may be accepted as an established fact and settled beyond question, and for all time to come. Intermarriage at the South need not be argued for a moment. Unless the South breaks the record of all history, there is only one alternative left and that is that the negro must be dependent, in a measure at least, upon the white man, as he cannot hope to dominate him. This basis of action was notably accepted in an address delivered in my city by Dr. Booker Washington and loudly applauded by the large number of negroes he was addressing.

The negro in Georgia has now put himself as a dependent upon the superior race by his own public, general and voluntary statement. The white people of Georgia would be grossly recreant to this acknowledged confidence and this trust if they did not give the assurance that every individual black man, with his family, shall be absolutely sure that he will receive justice, in his civil rights, his industrial relations, his educational opportunities and his moral and spiritual interests. This the people in Georgia have publicly proclaimed. All that we now need in order to work out our problem slowly and surely, is the sympathy and not the criticism of those who do not still understand the great hindrances that are yet in our way.

In Georgia we are free to announce that all men, irrespective of color, race or condition, shall be equally exempt from punishment until guilt has been duly ascertained and declared; and to announce further that nothing but authentic justice can be called public justice, or is public justice, either in law or in fact. Anything outside of authentic justice, as found in lynching and the riotous savagery of mobs, is as much condemned by the people in my state as in any state in the union or any section of the nation.

Lawlessness on the part of white men is as severely censured and condemned as lawlessness and violence by negroes. With us there can be no aristocracy of crime. A white fiend is as much to be dreaded as a black brute. In Georgia, we insist that the white man and the negro are to be always equal before the law.
Second, while we deny and disallow social equality, we are quite as free to grant and to defend the negro's fullest rights in industrial privileges and business opportunities.

I do not believe that there are now twenty-five capable and trustworthy negroes in my state to-day out of employment, who could not get work in fifteen minutes if they wanted it. Negroes have access to all the trades and all the professions as barbers, mechanics, artisans, masons, lawyers, dentists, etc. They are not prevented from work by labor unions. Such distinctions between the races would not be approved by our people.

Third, while we demand and will always positively enforce the requirement that the negro shall have separate schools and separate educational institutions, we are quite willing to provide that they shall have equal advantages with the white people for primary education under our public-school system. Indeed, their educational opportunities are in advance of those of the white man, in that the white people pay by far the greater bulk of the taxes, while the schools for the races are the same in character and advantage.

Some would-be friends of the negroes, as it seems to me, have made mistakes in attempting to educate the negro outside of his environment and away from his opportunities.

If the negro is made industrially capable and industrially reliable, the people at the South would rather have his service than such as could be rendered by any other people upon the earth. But it is possible that the kind of education to which he has been encouraged in some quarters has given him a feeling of self-sufficiency that has lifted him entirely out of his place among the people who would be more than glad to use him, with profit to himself, if he were only willing to serve.

While the negro is in no way responsible for the beginning of the problem, he is most criminally responsible for its wicked continuance. There is not a single negro from among the one million in my state, who does not fully understand the villainy of the outrages that are sometimes committed by their people. This responsibility is upon them and upon them solely. We expect to hold them responsible until they are controlled, properly punished and made obedient to law. In this effort, the better negroes are now rendering most helpful service and counsel.

We have lawless whites as well as lawless negroes, as do all the other states. When these two elements mix in Georgia, as elsewhere, we have the spectacle of settling the race problem by blood.

Representing a body from the very best citizens of my city, I have personally canvassed nearly one hundred counties in my state. In these several counties we have organized into committees large numbers of the best white citizens, who will undertake locally the adjustment of the relations of the races and the proper control of the lawless and disorderly of both races. Later, these committees will associate with themselves numbers of the law-abiding, good negroes resident in the several communities. The very best citizens of my state are taking position with the committees and the spirit of all the people is more hopeful and the solution of the problem is beginning.

The secretive disposition of the better negroes is giving way before their sense of responsibility to the community, and they are doing well in the delivery of their criminals to the officers of the law.
During the present session of our legislature, we hope to see enacted stringent and wholesome laws against vagrancy and idleness, so that we can put to work all the indolent and vicious, the classes from which all our criminals now come.

The problem of the races involves "the relations of the Anglo-Saxon, as the people of power, to the negroes, who are a people of weakness." Therefore, the problem with us must be settled, if settled at all, by the superior wisdom and superior judgment of the superior race, in righteous and just consideration for the inferior race. The white man must take a masterful initiatory leadership and determine the course of conduct after the fullest, most painstaking and complete investigation and, in kindly conference with the best element of the negro race, reach the most equitable and just adjustment possible for the best interests of the two.

We shall not solve this great and vexing problem in a day nor a year, but it is our problem and we will handle it wisely, with purpose, with vigor and with results. We must save the negro or it is plain his wickedness and his crimes will destroy the state. Our patriotism, our humanity and our Christianity all compel us to righteous efforts for the solution of this problem.

Who saves his country saves himself; saves all things, and all things saved bless him. Who lets his country die, lets all things die; dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Yellow and Proud of It

Recently on my Facebook wall someone accused me of being a coward.

I'm not beyond cowardice. I'm a fallen human being, prone to wander. I am also not beyond courage. Courage is when you are afraid but you act anyway. I do not agree that it is accurate to assess me, on the whole, to be a coward. Certainly the grounds of the accusation this person was making were spurious.

On a separate occasion a few months back, I became aware that someone had categorized me as yellow. To that, I actually wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, I aspire for this to be true.

Here's what happened. In 2019 I became aware that someone had discovered a list of the 2017-2018 trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I do not know who in the previous administration prepared this list, and I do not know who saw it. Every trustee on the list had received a color code.

Could be counted on to vote for whatever the administration wanted.
Could be expected to vote against whatever the administration wanted.
Unpredictable as a trustee. Vote would depend upon the strength of the evidence presented.

They had me in the yellow category. It is my ambition to be yellow in this sense. I have never received any accolade in any way that I have served the SBC that is higher than this one. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, whoever made up this list and categorized me in this way.

Indeed, that's ultimately the reason why I was called a coward on social media. It is not my knee-jerk reaction to read someone's agenda-driven slander-post and just sign my name on the dotted line. This, of course, bothers agenda-driven slander-posters. Show me something other than guilt by association and the genetic fallacy. Make a sound, reasonable case to me and you stand a good chance of persuading me.

I'd have been deeply ashamed to have been labeled either red or green. We need more yellow in the Southern Baptist Convention. Let us move forward into this decade with that as our common resolve.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Reputation of the Church

I'm coming to believe that we ought to just stop it already with our efforts to "protect the reputation of the church." In saying this, I have in mind both the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention and a Quick to Listen episode about NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements)" (Quick to Listen is a podcast by Christianity Today). Here are three quick thoughts about why I'm increasingly skeptical about efforts to protect the reputation of the church.

  1. It can be really hard to separate the reputation of the church from my reputation as pastor. The most nefarious things out there are the occasions when I use God or the church as an excuse to cover my own sinfulness.
  2. An awful lot of what is hurting the reputation of churches today consists of things people have done to protect the reputation of a church.
  3. Jesus built the church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it…what do you think you have to add to that level of protection?

Let's let Jesus worry about the reputation of His church. Let's worry about our personal holiness and our submission to Him, and then let's see if that doesn't work out better.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Interacting with Beth Moore's Remarks about Complementarianism at the 2019 ERLC National Conference

During her presentation at the 2019 ERLC National Conference in Grapevine, TX, Beth Moore deviated from her assignment to speak about her opinion of complementarianism. She clearly stated that she had done so without having been asked to speak on this topic, that she had not cleared her remarks with the ERLC staff, and that she was taking sole responsibility for what she was saying.

She also, acknowledging that many might disagree with what she was about to say, expressed a hope that people who were disposed to disagree with her would listen carefully to what she had to say and engage in discussion about her remarks.

I am writing today to do just that. I’ve deliberately allowed some time to elapse since she made her remarks, because I’ve not found myself to be all that skilled at the business of issuing a “hot take,” and anyway, there seems to be no shortage of labor in that industry that would demand my trying to perfect the craft. I have stood to the side to let others offer play-by-play and color commentary.

Also, I am writing in the hope of generating a dialogue that is conducted both in good faith and in a gentle spirit. I wish to be fair in what I write, knowing that the Lord is near and is watching. To put my cards on the table, I also wish to write in a way that is exemplary of what I wish Christian online discourse were like, but often find that it is not.


One might broadly define complementarianism as the idea that binary gender among humans is God’s purposeful choice. Human beings are male and female—no matter how controversial this statement might bewilderingly be today, this is the rather pointed teaching of scripture. Complementarianism may be more than, but certainly is no less than, the idea that gender is indeed binary, that gender corresponds to biological sex, that maleness and femaleness have meaning in the eyes of God (which may or may not correspond to human beliefs about what constitutes true maleness or true femaleness), and that God has chosen the male-female creation of mankind because it pleased Him that humanity exist in both maleness and femaleness. Certainly there is variety among male humans and among female humans, but there is also commonality. Complementarianism rests upon a foundational idea that the commonality is good, important, and brimming with implications for living.

Applied more specifically to ecclesiology, complementarianism is the idea that church roles can be and are often gender-specific. The office of pastor, complementarians believe, is not an office that a woman can rightfully occupy. Complementarians believe that the Old and the New Testaments make hierarchical distinctions on the basis of gender in the spheres of home and church. Men are commanded to give leadership in these societal structures.

Varieties of complementarianism exist. Some believe that the hierarchical distinctions based upon gender should extend not merely to home and church but also to government and every other aspect of human society. Such complementarians would not vote for a woman to be president, while other complementarians would not believe it to be sinful to elect a woman to be president. Varying kinds of complementarians deal differently with passages about head coverings, about adornment with jewelry or makeup, and about whether, when, and how woman can speak in the church assembly.

Here’s the kind of complementarian I am (because it’s good to be forthcoming about the perspective from which one writes). I believe that the office of pastor is limited to men. I do not believe that this is limited to the “senior pastor” (indeed, I don’t think that such a thing as a “senior pastor” even exists as a biblical office); rather, I believe that every pastor should be male. I believe that the function of the expository teaching of the scriptures to men or to the gathered congregation (i.e., “preaching” as we generally mean it) is a function that is limited to men. All of our women who teach Sunday School at FBC Farmersville teach classes comprised of minors or exclusively of women.

And yet, women give testimonies, sing, speak in our business meetings, give leadership to committees, and may even speak in worship services in ways that do not constitute the expository teaching of the scriptures in our judgment. For example, Dr. Amy Downey, an expert on Maimonides, on Judaism, and on bearing an evangelistic witness to people of Jewish descent, recently taught us on a Sunday night about modern Jewish beliefs, the nature of Judaism after Maimonides, and best practices for sharing the Christian faith with modern Jewish people. Mine is the kind of complementarianism that would not invite Dr. Downey to preach Hosea 8 on Sunday morning but would invite her to teach about Reform Judaism on Sunday night. Dr. Downey not only knows more about contemporary Judaism than I know; she knows more about it than I want to know. I’m thankful for her expertise; I’m thankful for my church’s opportunity to benefit from it.

If I worked at the family lamp factory and if my sister were the boss, I could gladly work for her without any qualms. If God would resurrect Margaret Thatcher and bring her across the pond, I’d gladly cast my ballot for her for President of the United States.

That’s the kind of complementarian that I am.

I know that there are complementarians who apply the idea of purpose in gender more strictly and in more areas than I do. I know that there are complementarians who apply the idea of purpose in gender more leniently and in fewer areas than I do. I’m still willing to call such people complementarians to the degree that they are comfortable with gendered hierarchy of some sort in home and in church.

Complementarianism and Beth Moore

Is Beth Moore a complementarian? She says that she is. In her remarks she quite clearly described her desired impact as a plea to rescue complementarianism from abusive corruptions rather than as a plea to abandon complementarianism for being abusive.

It seems to me from a distance that Beth Moore is a complementarian in this sense: She would refuse an invitation to become a pastor at a church because she would not believe that, as a woman, she should accept it. I’m speculating as I write that, and she’s free to correct me if I have misunderstood. If I understand her correctly at this point, then this is a belief that we share with other complementarians.

Beyond this idea, she and I hold some different ideas, from what I can tell:

  • As she encounters women who have occupied or are occupying the office of pastor, she feels comfortable interacting with them in ways that appear to be an endorsement of their pastoral ministries. In other words, she appears to be a women who would not accept a pastorate but would accept a sister who would accept a pastorate. I, on the other hand, would not endorse the ministry of a woman serving as a pastor.
  • She feels comfortable providing the expository teaching of scripture to gathered congregations and/or to mixed-gender Christian groups. I do not believe that she should do so.

Also, from what I can tell, she and I agree in some ways that we differ from other complementarians.

  • Neither she nor I believe that women should wear distinctive head coverings in worship.
  • Neither she nor I believe that women must be silent during church business meetings nor that they should otherwise refrain from speaking in general at church.

So, to sum up, Beth Moore says (or, at the very least, strongly implies) that she is a complementarian. I receive this as a true statement. I think that she and I occupy different points within the area of complementarianism (and, of course, I wish that she agreed with me), but I do not believe those differences to be so profound as to make one of us a complementarian and the other of us an egalitarian.

Complementarianism and Abuse

Beth Moore asserted in her remarks that certain corruptions of complementarianism lead to or exacerbate the abuse problem that the Southern Baptist Convention faces. I think that perhaps I agree in part and that I disagree in part.

I disagree in part, particularly to the degree that we are talking about sexual abuse. It is a woefully underreported fact, but boys and men are victims of sexual abuse in churches, too. Sexual abuse is not about love and it is not about theology; it is about domination and violence. It transcends the boundaries of gender in selecting victims. Complementarianism is not the culprit here.

I disagree in part also because Bill Hybels is no complementarian, and yet credible accusations have arisen that he has perpetrated abusive behavior in his role as a pastor. Just as abuse transcends the boundaries of gender in selecting victims, it also transcends the boundaries of theological position with regard to those who are perpetrators.

I agree in part, particularly to the degree that we are talking about spousal abuse. If there is a critique here to make about the conference in general or about Beth Moore’s presentation, it may be that it was not always altogether clear whether we were talking about child sexual abuse or spousal abuse. It seems plausible to me that some aberrations of complementarianism probably serve as false justification for those husbands who wish to behave in a domineering and abusive manner toward their wives.

Complementarianism is not abuse, and in her remarks Beth Moore made this absolutely clear. Any online reactions that suggested otherwise were false and misleading.

Complementarianism and a Low View of Scripture

Egalitarianism is the idea that all roles in the church are open to both genders (or even, in some quarters of Christianity, the rejection of a binary system of gender). Beth Moore complained that Southern Baptists have unfairly associated egalitarianism with a low view of scripture. Please note, she also clearly said that she is a complementarian and not an egalitarian. With this point she seemed to be defending others, not defending herself. With regard to her point, I think she has said a thing or two worth hearing, but in the end, I think that she and I probably disagree about this.

Within the Southern Baptist Convention, there has indeed been a very high correlation between the advocacy of egalitarianism and a low view of scripture. Beth Moore herself is soon participating in the Kyle Lake Center National Preaching Conference (November 19) at my alma mater, Baylor University. Baylor has promoted the idea of egalitarianism. It’s pretty “meta” that Beth Moore will be preaching about preaching at a National Preaching Conference there. This is a pretty explicit exploration of the differences between us about complementarianism.

Baylor University promotes a low view of scripture. I base this observation upon two sources of evidence. First, I was a student at Baylor University, and as a student there, I was taught that the first eleven chapters of the Bible have no basis in historical events, that Abraham was never told by God to sacrifice Isaac, that Jesus probably walked on a sandbar, and not on the water, and that Biblical teachings about sexual ethics must be subordinated to what secular sciences can uncover about the causes and motivations of human sexuality. I was there; I know whereof I speak.

Second, Baylor has just in the past few months released a new study Bible containing many of the same ideas that I just rehearsed. In particular, the Baylor Study Bible explicitly denies the historicity of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The study notes in that Bible reflect precisely what I was taught as a student at Baylor between 1988 and 1991.

Baylor is not alone. I could not, if pressed to do so, identify a single institution promoting a low view of scripture in American Evangelicalism that does not also promote egalitarianism. There simply is not, to my knowledge, such a thing as a low-view-of-scripture-but-complementarian institution. Conversely, I also cannot immediately identify in Southern Baptist life any institution with a high view of scripture that is promoting egalitarian views.

In Southern Baptist life, there is a high degree of correlation between a low view of scripture and egalitarian views, and I do not believe that I misrepresent anyone when I say so.

On the other hand, Beth Moore does have something of a point if one broadens his or her perspective beyond Southern Baptist life (which, obviously, is something that she has done, which may go a long way in explaining her statements). The Assemblies of God, for example, have a de jure egalitarian theology (although some within the Assemblies of God have pointed out that they are quite overwhelmingly de facto complementarian), and the Assemblies of God denomination is not at all, by what we usually mean to signify with the term, a group that holds a low view of scripture.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to hold a low view of the Bible to disobey it. Discernment bloggers have an ostensibly high view of scripture, but their Bibles have Philippians 4:5 in them just like the rest of ours (“Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” NASB).

To the degree that anyone is saying, “Everyone on the planet who holds egalitarian theology also has subscribed to German Higher Criticism and the concomitant low view of scripture,” that person is overstating the case, and Mrs. Moore’s point of critique is well-taken.

To the degree that anyone is saying, “There is a high correlation between egalitarian theology and a subscription to German Higher Criticism, especially within the Southern Baptist Convention,” that person has offered a point of view defensible from the evidence, I believe.

Rather than either of these things, I’d prefer to say, “Everyone who holds egalitarian theology is not dealing forthrightly and submissively with a number of key biblical texts, nor with the witness of scripture in general.“ This is a more forceful way to say, “I believe that the Bible teaches complementarianism,” but the difference is one of tone, not of content. I don’t want to adopt an egregiously aggressive or offensive tone, but neither do I want to concede the point, if that’s what Beth Moore is suggesting, that there is no connection whatsoever between fidelity to the Bible and complementarianism.

The topic of gender roles in scripture represents one of several asymmetries in the Bible that are, I would assert, undeniable. There is the Jew-Gentile asymmetry. The Jews are God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, every apostle (the highest authority in the church and those to whose teachings we adhere today) was Jewish. Praise God, we have been grafted in as Gentiles, but there’s no confusion as to who is the branch and what is the tree. And when all is said and done in the end, we will live in a New Jerusalem with a foundation and with gates emblazoned with exclusively Jewish names. Gentiles are not BAD in the Bible, and in both Old Testament and New, God expresses a desire and implements a plan to bless and love Gentiles right alongside Jews, but there is a clear ordering of Jew and Gentile expressed, also. “To the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

There is a homosexual-heterosexual asymmetry in the Bible. Only good things are said about monogamous, loving heterosexuality. Only bad things are said about homosexuality.

There is a male-female asymmetry in the Bible. Much like the Jew-Gentile asymmetry mentioned above, this is not an asymmetry in which being either male or female is a bad thing, but the asymmetry remains nonetheless. There simply is no passage in the scriptures reading anything at all like, “Let a man learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a man to teach or to exercise authority over a woman; rather, he is to remain quiet.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12, ESV, genders switched by me). We can have a discussion about how much the Bible is complementarian in favor of male authority, but no one anywhere can conduct any credible discussion about how much the Bible is complementarian in favor of female authority. The best an egalitarian can do is try to argue that this asymmetry is meaningless and to try to empty it down to neutrality.

But to do that—to endeavor to dilute what were (apparently) strict prohibitions in the minds of apostles until they are thoughts with no practical impact upon the operations of modern churches—is not to promote a high view of this particular passage of scripture. It is not necessarily, in every case, German Higher Criticism, and that ought to be acknowledged in order to deal accurately and fairly with the topic, but neither is this a way of valuing all of scripture. It’s more of a postmodern than a classically liberal way of lowering the value of the Bible.

If I am correct in saying this, then I must hurry to note that I cannot say it with any arrogance. Sinner that I am, I try to rationalize away scripture daily—multiple times daily. I do it when I am in a hurry behind the wheel of my car. I do it when I am angry and I want to say so in a way that gratifies my flesh. Yes, I do this same violence to scripture myself. Someone who holds egalitarian views will doubtless want to point this out. I am inconsistent. I admit it.

But shouldn’t our response to inconsistency be to encourage one another toward a more consistent obedience rather than a more consistent disobedience? Help me be more consistently obedient by pointing out my inconsistencies. By doing so, you will do me a favor.

And so, I actually do believe that there is a correspondence between egalitarian belief and a misuse of the Bible, although I do readily acknowledge that not all egalitarians follow the teachings of German Higher Criticism or related daughter ideologies (although a great many do).


Dialogue means that the conversation goes in two directions. I want to emphasize that I have prepared this response not because Beth Moore is under my authority such that she must listen to me. Not at all. I’m not her pastor. I’m not her husband. I’m merely her brother. I rather prepared this response because (as I said at the beginning) she expressed a desire that some of us who disagree at least partially with her should consider and respond to what she has said about complementarianism.

Frankly, I’ve been disappointed in the way that some of that has taken place. Pastors ought not to be female, but neither ought they to be boorish or quarrelsome. Disagreement can be fair, respectful, dignifying, and sober-minded. I can say in good faith that such a conversation has been my objective. I welcome critiques of these quickly-scribbled, weakly-attributed thoughts that I have assembled, not in the hope that I might be vanquished, of course, but in the hopeful expectation that careful dialogue among fellow believers can be a good and beneficial thing, pleasing to our Father.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Occasionally I will run into someone who knows my resume better than he knows my ministry: "You're a National Merit Scholar, a University Scholar at Baylor, a PhD from SWBTS in Church History…I wonder how much Church History your church has been taught."

The answer? Probably less than yours.

Don't get me wrong; I LOVE Church History. And yes, there actually are some stories from the history of Christianity that make their way into my sermons, lessons, or counseling sessions. For example, I've found that the story of Monica and Augustine can be very encouraging to mothers who are worried about their sons' misbehavior. But my sermons are not overburdened with illustrations from Church History 101.

It's not that I'm lazy in sermon preparation. I do not miss illustration efforts by McBeth or Gonzales or Eusebius on accident. I'm deliberately avoiding these things. I'm pushing back against the constant urge to carpet bomb our congregation with Luther stories or Spurgeon quotes or Origen anecdotes. As a pastor and preacher, I have made it my job to un-know a lot of what I know, so to speak.


"For I decided that around y'all I would un-know everything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2, my own translation that you should probably never be caught using in public)

Paul had a resume, too. Hebrew. Pharisee. Gamaliel. Perfectionist. Paul could have spent HOURS filling in all the blanks for his Gentile converts about Jewish ideas concerning the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. I do not doubt that his doing so would have led to the accumulation of a small, devout following of the Truly Interested. But he believed that un-knowing was an important tool in ministry. This was not a regression toward ignorance. Paul's training shows up all over his epistles. Rather, it was a progression toward focus. It was the removal of unnecessary weight so that the plane could fly higher, car could go faster, boat could sail more gracefully.

Obviously, "un-knowing" is not something that we can practice literally and deliberately. I still know what I learned at SWBTS. When I reach the point that I do not know any of it, the causes will be things beyond my control. I can't LITERALLY un-know. What's more, I can't even entirely suppress what I've learned. Academic training affects my ministry every day in a million ways. It's just that those ways are, for the most part, furtive. There are mistakes that I don't make because I know that Roger Williams disproved that way of thinking a long time ago. There are people whom I do not follow because they remind me a little bit of Benjamin Bogard. Get all of the education that you can. It can and often does make a positive impact upon ministry, but sometimes (often?) it does so best from the background.

God did not give me a congregation so that I could have all of the benefits of being a Church History professor without having to grade papers or sit on the curriculum committee; God entrusted me with a flock so that I could feed them, love them, and point them toward the Chief Shepherd. They need to know Jesus Christ and the gospel.

So, to my pastor-brethren who are really smart and who have some areas in which you've cultivated expertise and leadership credentials—history, languages, systematics, politics, sports, beard-grooming, or whatever else—I appeal to you to take up the study of un-knowing if you haven't already. This important tool, once mastered, will bless your congregation and will bless you.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Still Thin-Skinned After All These Years

Credit for this post goes to a friend who, weathering some storms in ministry, recently asked me, "What does it take to grow a thick skin?" I'm basically setting forth my reply in writing, with some added material that comes from having had several days to reflect upon what I said.

The way I weather a crisis has changed down through the years, but I have not yet grown a thick skin. In other words, in some ways I experience hurt and disappointment in just the same way that I did when I was 22 and when Tracy and I went to our first church together, and in some ways that experience has changed.

What Remains Unchanged

It still hurts. That hasn't changed. It hurts every time someone leaves my church. It hurts every time someone criticizes me behind my back. It hurts every time someone says something negative about my church. Perhaps a day is coming when it won't hurt any more, but I can't detect any indicators of that day's arrival. Not only does it still hurt; it still hurts just as much as it did back then.

I wonder who I would be if it didn't? Would that make me an unfeeling automaton managing the affairs of an organization rather than an under-shepherd who loves the sheep? Would I be a jaded, calloused, bitter survivor just biding my time until I could afford to get out? As things stand, I still care and therefore it still hurts. Just as much. Sometimes MORE than it did before.

What Is Now Different

Alongside the hurt, there used to be a lot of fear back when I was younger. I can identify at least two ways in which I was afraid during my earlier crises in ministry.

First, I was afraid that I would be fired and then unemployed. How would I provide for my family? How would I fulfill my calling? Would any church consider hiring me if I were to get the boot from my present church? What would I do? Let's call this fear about the consequences.

Second, I was afraid that maybe my critics were right and maybe I actually am a failure at ministry. What if it would be best if I couldn't get another ministry job? What if I am doomed, if I remain in ministry, to be the ruination of a string of churches foolish enough to hire me? Let's call this fear about my competency.

Although the hurt remains, these fears for me are mostly gone. I've just realized some things along the way that have helped me.

As to my fear of the consequences, down through the years I've watched as some real jerks, having been rightfully booted from one church, have been able to find another church right away. This summer has involved the revelation in the news how we have infamously done this with regard to sexually abusive pastors, but this weakness in our polity extends far beyond sex abusers. There are people who abuse no one sexually but who abuse a lot of people spiritually, and yet they seem able to keep moving from one church to another.

So, I finally came to conclude, if such people can find churches who will hire them, then probably so could I. I'm no longer afraid that one problem at one church would utterly shipwreck my ability to pursue my calling.

As to my fear concerning my professional competency as a pastor, although I have retained an awareness of personal weaknesses in ministry (and I'm trying to work on those), this fact dawned upon me: There are some 42,000 or so churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I dare to be boastful in this way—I do not believe that I am the 42,001st worst pastor in the SBC. And if I am not the 42,001st worst pastor in the SBC, then so long as I remain biblically qualified for ministry, there is a church in our convention of churches who needs me.

God does not require perfection in me. God is the one who supplies perfection in the gospel equation. He needs my surrender to His will and my willingness to endure hardship like a good soldier. He'll put me where He needs me, and I'll try to be faithful there to serve.

I didn't realize back when I was younger how much it was the fear, not the hurt, that was tormenting me. The hurt…well…hurts. There's no denying that. But the fears can terrify a hurting person. Taking away the fears makes a big difference. They have gone away, in part, because of the realizations that I mentioned above. They have also gone away thanks in part to a growing faith on my part. My faith in God has grown. I believe that He will take care of me. Also, over the course of two decades, my faith has grown in the people whom I serve as pastor. I'm not the only one in our congregation who loves Jesus and is trying to do the right thing. Assuming the worst about what they will do is foolish and disrespectful.


Maybe this will be helpful to someone this morning (after all, today IS Monday). Don't worry too much about thickening your skin. You may find that bolstering your faith and pondering upon some facts will be all the help that you need.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

NeverTrump Deserter

There's a substantial chance that I'll vote for Donald Trump in the next presidential election.

In a way, that's not all that remarkable. Millions of people all across the country will do that. Not all of them, however, ever wrote anything like this. I am defecting from the NeverTrump state. Here's how and why.

A Choice, Not an Endorsement: My largest concerns about voting for Donald Trump the last time around had to do with the negative impact upon my testimony that would come from endorsing someone with the character flaws that President Trump has demonstrated (see the aforementioned link). That is still a concern. And I would still vote for Mike Pence over Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee over Donald Trump, Ben Sasse over Donald Trump, and the list goes on. But I doubt that any of them will run in this election cycle. I voted for Evan McMullin in the previous cycle, but following his Twitter feed has not made me long for him to have won. I reject binaryism—vote your conscience, OK—but I also acknowledge that most independent candidates don't undergo the same sort of vetting that a major party candidate will undergo, and are therefore more of an unknown commodity than will be the GOP and Democrat candidates. So, I'll have to make a choice on election day, and facing the field that we are presently facing, I'll likely vote for Donald Trump.

Checks and Balances: I disagree with Donald Trump about immigration. Donald Trump hasn't gotten much done on immigration. I disagree with Donald Trump about religious liberty for Muslims. Donald Trump hasn't been successful at infringing upon the religious liberty of Muslims. Our system of checks and balances has been successful in some ways. I'm sure that bothers Donald Trump and some of his supporters. For me it clears some space to consider voting for him.

Surprising Successes: I doubted Donald Trump's sincerity about abortion. I still note that not much has been gained in that area, but President Trump has been as pro-life as any other president of my lifetime, measured by accomplishments, and even if he isn't the guy driving things forward, the pro-life movement is moving forward these days. I thought he would betray the pro-life cause boldly. I misjudged him. President Trump has also offered real leadership in the area of prison sentencing reform. I know that Dwight was sorely concerned about how President Trump's administration would affect African-Americans. I haven't noted any major statistical increase in violence against black people under President Trump than existed under President Obama, and considering things like the First Step Act, I'd like to hear an updated, fact-based case for how African-Americans are worse off in terms of employment, justice, health, or welfare today than they were four years ago. Some of the statistics that I've examined seem to suggest the opposite.

President Trump's Supreme Court nominees have been a bit of a mixed bag so far, but I'm generally pleased with what he has done to the Court and would like to see what he could accomplish if there were a RBG vacancy in the next four years. My expectations were really low, and President Trump has been a better president than I thought.

Infanticide: In 2016 I had reckoned the Democrats as the party of the status quo ante with regard to abortion. Boy, was I wrong! The Democrats have demonstrated a clear agenda in the direction of infanticide. Roe v Wade is not enough for them. Also, the Democrats are now demonstrating even stronger advocacy for Socialism, which is totalitarian at its heart. With their hard lurch to the Left, Democrats have changed the moral math of our electoral equation, in my estimation. I thought it mattered for the sake of my testimony and for the sake of righteousness to distance myself from Donald Trump in 2016. In 2020, I feel more strongly about distancing myself from the Democrats and the increasing moral darkness of their platform. With regard to his personal character, President Trump is no better of a man than I thought he was, but he's also no worse than I thought he was. Democratic politicians, on the other hand, have done what I thought was not possible: They have shown me that they could be even worse than my lowest-of-the-low expectations of them.

Allegiance: In 2016 I voted as I did because I didn't owe my allegiance to the GOP. My vote has to be earned. Perhaps the NeverTrump movement shouldn't be surprised at the existence of defectors, because neither did I pledge any sort of allegiance to that movement. And that's a movement that has yielded very little in terms of positive leadership for our nation. I do not anticipate any good NeverTrump choices to occupy the ballot in this cycle. NeverTrump, like any position with room for the word "never," was a position at the far end of the spectrum. I do not know anyone who is more NeverTrump today than they were in 2016. Is that even logically possible? The only possible direction for movement was a softening of resistance in the President's direction.

Conclusion: I still have grave reservations about the President in all of the areas that you might expect: his Twitter, his immigration policy, his emotional stability, his instincts toward fear-mongering and demagoguery, his clear yearnings toward fiat rule. I am not promising my 2020 vote to the President. He still has to earn it. But—and this might very well be a canary in the coal mine situation for our Republic—I can imagine a lot of scenarios for 2020 in which President Trump might clearly be the best choice of those listed on the ballot. So, with apologies to all of those who remain in the movement, I have concluded that never is a long, long time, and I cannot say that I would never vote for President Trump for re-election.