As my regular readers know, you can find me and the Southern Baptists on the same side of many social issues, but I think those that follow First Baptist Dallas’s pastor Robert Jeffress on the question of Mormons in politics are being unbelievably parochial and small-minded. I could be wrong about this, but it seems like leading Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler thinks so too. In an essay he just posted, Mohler strongly defends the Southern Baptist teaching that Mormonism is not, theologically speaking, a Christian faith. But then he says that Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals have got to quit being so parochial in their political thinking. Excerpt:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview. Given the importance of the issues at stake and the central role of worldview in the framing of political positions and policies, this intuition is both understandable and right. Likewise, we would naturally expect that adherents of other worldviews would also gravitate in political support to candidates who most fully share their own worldviews.
At the same time, competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13. Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent. The Reformer Martin Luther is often quoted as saying that he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (Muslim) than an incompetent Christian. We cannot prove that Luther actually made the statement, but it well summarizes an important Christian wisdom.
Hear, hear. This kerfuffle over Pastor Jeffress brings to mind a story my wife tells on herself about her training at First Baptist Dallas, which was one of the country’s first true megachurches, and is absolutely mainstream in Texas. (I repeat it here with her permission.) Julie was raised at First Baptist, and studied at the church’s parochial school. She loved it, and made many good friends there. Though she’s no longer a Southern Baptist, she’ll tell anybody who listens that she’s so grateful for her Baptist childhood, because that’s how and why she came to know Christ and to love Scripture.
That said, she regrets the deep parochialism about religion that was part and parcel of her formation there in the 1980s and early 1990s. She talks about having been shown filmstrips explaining why the “poor, precious Catholics” aren’t really Christians, and need to be reached for Jesus. The idea that there is any kind of real Christianity outside of born-again Protestantism was never really considered, she said. She tells of a mission trip her high school choir made to Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. They were invited to sing in a small Catholic parish somewhere on the city’s outskirts. In a private moment before the performance, one of the Baptist adults present gathered the choir together and offered a prayer of thanksgiving that God had brought them there to proclaim his word “for the first time in 500 years.”
That is, since the Reformation. Because, you know, even though the church had been continuously used by Catholics since the Reformation, the Word of God had been absent, given that Roman Catholics aren’t really Christians. Or so these particular Southern Baptists thought.
Mind you, the lesson here is not that Roman Catholicism is right and the Southern Baptist confession is wrong, from a theological point of view. The thing that stands out about this anecdote is not that Baptists think Catholic theology is seriously misguided (of course they do! So what! Catholics think the same thing about Southern Baptists!). The thing that stands out is the rock-solid belief that the Word of God had been entirely absent from that particular parish church for 500 years. It’s as if the day Martin Luther was excommunicated, the Holy Spirit abandoned that little parish entirely, and was never heard from again until a group of fresh-faced Baptist teenagers from Dallas, Texas, showed up five centuries later to sing “Shine Jesus Shine.” It boggles the mind to think of it.
The lesson — at least the lesson my wife drew from it — is that she and her deeply sincere young Southern Baptist Christians operated from a position of supreme confidence that was completely unfettered by an awareness of history, nuance, or context. It’s a problem, this culturally-conditioned unsubtlety of mind, and it’s one that Al Mohler speaks to fairly eloquently in the context of conservative politics.