Strategic SBC silence: Thinking about Donald Trump, 'The Benedict Option' and more

Hello fellow religion writers.

Hello fellow religion-news junkies.

Have you spent a good part of this past week listening to the loud and potentially strategic silence in corners of cyberspace that normally buzz with Southern Baptist Convention news and commentary? Have you been paying close attention to see when a certain feed on Twitter will return to action?

Did you notice, however, the interesting thoughts and comments on a certain post by Dwight McKissic at the SBC Voices website? That would be the one with this headline:

Biographical Reflections and Ruminations on the SBC and Responses to the Graham-Moore Controversy

We are, of course, talking about the uncertainty that remains after the much-discussed meeting between the Rev. Russell Moore, the SBC's most prominent voice in Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Frank Page, leader of the convention's executive committee ("About the Washington Post report on SBC's Russell Moore: It's best to simply say, 'Read carefully' "). The two men released a "peace pipe" statement afterwards and then the silence descended over SBC land.

All of this provided the hook for this past week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in). The goal in this conversation, however, was to look at the wider themes seen in this conflict, the political and generational conflicts that are seen in many religious bodies right now, not just in America's largest Protestant flock.

With that in mind, read this passage this passage in that McKissic post, which addresses the reality that much of the SBC fighting about Moore and his work is, in reality, another sign of conflicts in American evangelicalism linked to -- and I say this carefully -- faith in Donald Trump and in his ability to keep promises. The opening reference to "Biblical Inerrancy" refers to the doctrinal fight at the heart of the great SBC civil war that began in the late 1970s.

Biblical Inerrancy was/is “A Hill on Which to Die” (which is the title of the book written by Judge Pressler detailing the inerrancy battle in the SBC). The Confederate Flag Resolution was/is not “A Hill on Which to Die.”
Neither is an alignment with and official sanctioning of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party “A Hill on Which to Die.” I join with my President, Pastor Byron Day, of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention in appealing for unity in the life of our Convention. Although I’m unsure of whom the target audience might have been, but I concur with a recent tweet by my friend Bob Roberts: “mixing the Kingdom of God with the kingdoms of man always leads to a fake kingdom.” The SBC will morph into a “fake kingdom” if they continue this horrid love affair and identification with the Republican Party, particularly while Donald Trump is President.
Tony Evans is renowned for saying, “God is not riding the backs of donkeys or elephants. He doesn’t take sides, He takes over.” God is neither Republican nor Democrat. It would be a travesty for our Convention to make a decision that would be widely and rightfully interpreted as aligning us with the Republican Party. It would be equally unwise and unholy to align the SBC with the Democratic Party.

That's blunt and to the point.

The wider issue, as I see it, rest on differences about the current state of the American soul. Many Southern Baptists (and others) led by an older generation of Religious Right leaders seem convinced that it is still possible to win the so-called culture war over faith, morality and public life -- no matter what the polls show about the beliefs of younger generations. Many younger Southern Baptists (and others) believe that it is wrong to keep focusing on politics, other than a strong push to protect religious liberty for all. They want to stress a reformation in church and family life, so that Christians in the present and future will have something to pass on to both their children and a hurting world, when it comes to faith and culture.

To tune in that side of the conflict, let me point journalists and readers toward the "Christians in the Hands of Donald Trump" column by Ross Douthat, in the New York Times, of course. Here is his more elegant statement of my earlier thesis:

Moore (and many others) spent the campaign warning that a countercultural Christianity would risk its credibility by supporting a figure like Trump for the presidency. But other leaders, mostly in the movement’s older guard, found ways to cast Trump as a heaven-sent figure, whose flaws and failings were no worse than those of a King David or a Constantine. And when Trump won, shockingly -- with strong support from conservative churchgoers, however conflicted they might have been -- the Trumpist faction claimed vindication, and among some Baptist pastors the knives came out for Moore.

But was the Trump victory a sign of lasting progress or only another symptom of the bitterness and confusion that is tearing American in half?

This brings us to a big-time reading assignment for all who want to cover the deeper themes in this national story, which is not over yet. No way.

This reversal of fortune provides the unexpected backdrop for several new books from conservative Christian writers, all written back when liberalism’s cultural-political progress seemed more inevitable (that is, last year). They include Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World” and the Providence College English professor Anthony Esolen’s “Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture.” The most talked-about title is Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” (blurbed, the alert reader will note, by Russell Moore), whose arresting title references the founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict of Nursia, and whose countercultural themes have been percolating for some time in Dreher’s prolific blogging.
Each book has its own tone. Chaput’s is ruminative and strains for optimism; Esolen waxes poetic in the service of a cultural jeremiad. Dreher’s is an interesting mixture. It begins in sweeping pessimism, describing a Western Christianity foredestined to all but disappear, collapsing from within even as its institutions are regulated and taxed to death by secular inquisitors. Then it pivots to a more practical how-to guide for believers trying to build religious communities -- churches, schools, families, social networks -- that are more resilient, more rigorous and more capable of passing on the faith than much of Christianity today.

So, get to reading. And listening. In addition to this one, there are all kinds of interesting podcasts out there about these themes.

Russell Moore talks to Rod Dreher? Yes, please. Click here.

Rod Dreher in a potentially newsworthy conversation with the prominent SBC public intellectual, and Southern Baptist Seminary leader, Albert Mohler, Jr.? Yes, please. Click here.

Last, but not least, please save a few moments for this week's edition of "Crossroads." As you would imagine, I am still trying to figure out the wider news hooks in all of this.

Enjoy the podcast.

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