Wednesday, February 24, 2021
It's Wednesday, February 24, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Southern Baptist Convention Disfellowships Two Churches for Affirmation of Homosexuality: Necessary and Proper Action to Defend the Clear Teaching of Scripture
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention yesterday removed four churches from fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention. That might not sound like world-shaking news. After all, you're talking about four congregations out of more than 40,000 SBC churches, but you are talking about the nation's largest evangelical denomination. And you're also talking about what does almost instantly become headline news these days, and that is anything having to do with LGBTQ issues. And when it comes to two of the four churches removed, that was the presenting issue. Interestingly, the presenting issue and the other two cases was the fact that both churches had a convicted sex offender as pastor but let's look more closely at the first actions that were taken. They were to remove two churches because both of those churches had, in their own way, taken steps that were positive or affirming towards homosexuality, or some part or all, of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Now, as you're looking at this, you need to recognize that there are theological issues at stake. There are legal and policy issues at stake. There are also public issues at stake. The public is interested in this case. There's widespread media attention because after all. Those who are in favor of the LGBTQ revolution, have reached the point where they think it's in comprehensible that any organization, any institution, any body of churches or congregations, might actually take a stand in opposition to that revolution.
They're also by the way, quite certain that that opposition, or at least any kind of influence that's an opposition, will be short lived and temporary. But as you're looking at the story of what happened yesterday in Nashville, when the executive committee met, you have the Louisville Courier Journal reporting accurately, "The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee expelled four churches, including one in Louisville, for affirming LGBTQ people during a Tuesday meeting in Nashville."
Now the most important thing I think many Southern Baptists would want to say, and that would include members of our executive committee, is that it's not a lack of affirmation of humanity. It's a lack of affirmation of what we see as an inherently sexual lifestyle and for that matter, an inherently sinful movement, when it comes to normalizing and offering legitimacy to the entire spectrum identified as LGBTQ.
Now, again, it's actually incomprehensible to many Americans that anyone would be opposed to this revolution, but we have to recognize that the great divide right now in this country, in this respect, is between those who believe that sexual morality is just a matter of endless human liberation and those who believe that sexual morality is rooted in God's intention, as revealed in creation and in his word. That turns out to be the most fundamental divide.
The two churches at stake on this issue, in yesterday's action by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee, had to do with one in the Atlanta area in Cobb County, a community known as Kennesaw and the other in Louisville, Kentucky, in a neighborhood known as Saint Matthew's, thus Saint Matthews Baptist Church.
So, you have Saint Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville named for a neighborhood not named for a Saint in particular, and then you have the Towne View Baptist church in Kennesaw, and that church in Kennesaw, along with the church in Saint Matthews, they were disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention.
Now, what does that mean? Well, it's the equivalent for a congregation of what we would call excommunication, when it comes to an individual believer. Excommunication is when a congregation and its disciplined process reaches the point where it says that a member of this church has acted, or express beliefs in such a way, that there is no compatibility between the convictions of this church and our rightful covenant expectations with one another and the reality that is now represented by this individual who obstinately refuses the discipline of the church. That is exactly the analogy to disfellowship.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee is empowered by the convention itself, to take these actions, when it comes to churches that obstinately refused the discipline of the domination. They are no longer walking in communion with the Southern Baptist Convention and its biblical convictions. They find themselves, not only that, they take themselves into a position where they are in opposition to the cherished beliefs and moral expectations of the denomination. Something has to give.
Now here's something else you have to watch that something will have to give on the part of the liberal denominations means that the doctrine and the morality has to give. The creeds and confessions have to give. The doctrinal accountability and biblical fidelity have to give. When it comes to conservative, evangelical, biblically committed congregations and denominations, it comes down to the fact that yes, something has to give and there's something that has to give is that churches that are not walking with us, are no longer going to be included among us.
Now, every denomination, every church, has to make some kind of decisions about what are the beliefs and moral standards that are expected of every believer when it comes to a congregation and of every church, when it comes to any kind of denominational body.
Now, when it comes to Baptist polity, that is to say our organization, you have congregationalism; every church is free to order itself. But then you have associationalism; congregations associate with one another. They do so locally in what are known as associations. In our polity, they do so in state groupings known as State Baptist Conventions, and then they do so at the level, the Southern Baptist Convention. Interestingly, a church can opt in or opt out, at any of those levels.
Every one of those levels, historically and biblically, bears responsibility to determine its own membership and to maintain a standard of fidelity to its beliefs and its standards. When it comes to Saint Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, the Kentucky Baptist Convention, that's the State Baptist Convention for Southern Baptists in Kentucky, disfellowshiped Saint Matthews about two years ago, a little more than two years ago. Now the Southern Baptist Convention has taken the very same action.
Now, as you look at this, you have to recognize, it takes some time for these cases to work their way up until a final decision. The same thing's true when it comes to church discipline, but after all in a congregation's life, things can happen more quickly because of the regularity of the meeting. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee meets only three times a year, and an only two of those meetings are regular business conducted.
So this has gone through a process in which someone is brought to attention, the aberrant teachings of the Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw and Saint Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville. By the way, here's something else that's very, very interesting. Neither of those two congregations was established on any kind of pro-LGBTQ conviction. When it comes to the case of Saint Matthews, that would have been in comprehensible when you consider how old that congregation is.
When it comes to the Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, it would also, and this is what's interesting. It would have been in comprehensible, just a matter of say, a decade or two ago. An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by reporter Shelia Poole tells us about the Reverend Jim Conrad, the senior pastor of Towne View Baptist Church. We're told that a same-sex couple with three adopted sons had contacted the church to ask if they would be allowed into membership, even individually. And of course, we're not just talking about a gay male couple, that's how they are identified in the press, but the spectrum of LGBTQ.
The interesting thing here, and it is quite interesting, is that we are told that the pastor came to the determination that the bylaws of the church did not prevent this. The article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution included this statement: "There was nothing in the bylaws that prevented them from joining and the church began the process of clarifying its stance on the issue."
Now what's interesting here is the reference to bylaws because when you're thinking about historic Christianity, yes, churches, congregations, Christian institution should have bylaws, but the bylaws are of infinitely less importance than the doctrines of the church. Its doctrinal standards, biblical fidelity, creeds, confessions, all of that is of infinitely more value or importance then the bylaws. The bylaws are simply to reflect those convictions but the bylaws come up again in the story when we are told that this pastor and his church knew that their actions would place them in violation of the bylaws of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Technically of course, that's true. That's why the Conventions Executive Committee took actions, but the Executive Committee didn't act because it was outraged over a violation of a bylaw principle. It acted because it was quite concerned about the teaching of the congregation, its theological affirmations, it's violation of scriptural authority and of biblical standards of marriage and morality. The bylaws are secondary, but it does tell you that at least in the minds of some people, and maybe in this case it reflects the newspaper more than the particular people involved in the article. At least the issue of bylaws comes up, not just once, but twice. We are living in a very, very strange society and you shouldn't need a bylaw to be told that.
Officers of the SBC Executive Committee express their grief and having to take this action in the same kind of pattern you would see grief expressed by a congregation for having to take action in church discipline, even to the point of excommunication. It's not the kind of action a congregation wants to take. It's not the kind of action a denomination wants to take. But we are looking at the fact that if the Southern Baptist Convention does not fulfill its responsibility to uphold its own doctrine and standards, then just like the liberal Protestant denominations, there will be no doctrines and standards.
Almost immediately, there was a national conversation about the fact that these issues aren't very clear. I posted it on Twitter yesterday, subsequent to seeing that confusion: "Anyone who argues that the Bible, Old Testament and New Testament, is not clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality, is either very confused or deliberately dishonest about the structure of biblical theology and the clear meaning of the texts."
And yes, we are looking at both of these things. We are looking in some cases, at what can be described as a deep confusion. But we're looking in most cases at a deliberate dishonesty. And by the way, that's what we're looking at in the cases where the SBC takes action. These churches are not surprised to find themselves in conflict with the SBC and these churches are not, and have no reason to be surprised, that they have taken actions that placed them in direct contradiction to the Southern Baptist Convention. They're basically daring the SBC to act and the SBC acted.
A telling section in the Atlanta Journal Constitution article is this. "Many churches that run afoul of SBC rules, choose to withdraw from the denomination themselves. Towne View decided it would rather be forced out than walk away." Again, very interesting. This is a church that basically set itself up to be forced out of the SBC, which it was.
Two Other Churches Disfellowshipped from Southern Baptist Convention for Employing Convicted Sex Offenders: Necessary and Proper Action to Defend the Flock of God
But something else we need to recognize is that what we are witnessing in our current context, that is our current national or even global context, is a comprehensive rebellion against God's word and biblical morality and one of the ways we see that is not only in the issues that are rightly now summarized if incompletely by LGBTQ+, we're also looking at it when it comes to sex abuse and sex offenders.
Two other churches were removed yesterday by action of the SBC Executive Committee, they were disfellowshipped. That's the right and proper term for what amounts to a congregational excommunication. These two churches were removed for employing pastors that were convicted of sex offenses.
The two churches in this case were Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, and West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville Pennsylvania. Both of those churches now named, both of those churches now disfellowshiped from the Southern Baptist Convention. Now you might look at this and say, "Well, what are the particulars at stake when you have pastors who are summarized here as having been convicted of sex offenses?"
Well, here's where we just need to say two very clear principles and articulate them clearly. One is that, already in Scripture, in a text like 1 Timothy 3, you have a very, very clear biblical exhortation that the pastor, the one who holds the teaching office, the teaching elder in the church, is to be one who has a good reputation, who is not held in disrepute.
Regardless of the circumstances, a conviction on sex offenses is incompatible with having a good reputation for gospel ministry. That sounds like an extreme statement, just consider the alternative. That simply has to be a principle that evangelical, biblically-minded Christians understand. If someone has been convicted of a sex offense in this case, of a sex crime, then you really are looking at the fact that there is a broken reputation and inevitably this sets up a scandal, not only for the church, but for the preaching of the gospel and that's the apostle Paul's point.
It's a point he also makes quite emphatically, as you look at a passage like 1 Corinthians 5 and going into chapter 6. The church has a responsibility, not even to have fellowship with those who continue obstinately in sin, but when it comes to leadership in the church and the teaching office, it's not just a violation of order for someone to be persistent in sin, it has a reputational issue that a sex offense in this case, a criminal sex offense for sure, would invalidate or nullify.
The second issue has to do with the church's responsibility to protect the flock of God. Not only that, but the entire community. Calling someone as a pastor is not just a matter of an internal teaching office, it is also inevitably, a manner of an external statement to the community about the pastoral role and responsibility of an individual or individuals. The church has that responsibility as well.
When it comes to the church, the Bible is very clear. There is to be protection of the flock of God. Those who prey upon the flock of God are condemned in the strongest possible terms in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, you have a passage such as James 3:1, where those who teach are warned that they will incur a stricter judgment.
But the matter of protecting the flock of God is actually not limited to the protection of the flock of God. It includes seeking to offer protection in every case possible, to the entire community, to everyone. We must set up, or give an opportunity to no one, to use pastoral office for any kind of sexual predation or sexual offense. And furthermore, even from the risk of a scandal that would come just by the reputational damage, that would be involved. But we're not just talking about damage to reputation, we're talking about the horrific reality of very real danger, to very real people, who must be able to trust the church and must never have cause to fear it.
Now, when this kind of action takes place, you often have people begin to ask, well, where does this end? How many churches will eventually be disfellowshipped from an association or a State Convention or the Southern Baptist Convention? And the answer is time will tell. But in a fallen world, in a world in which the power of sin is so real in a world in which we're talking about tens of thousands of congregations in the SBC and hundreds of thousands of evangelical congregations in the United States, in a world in which the New Testament warns us, that Satan is roaming to and fro, seeking whom he may devour, in such a world and in a world that is now marked by the utter moral rebellion and theological and moral seductions we now see around us, we should expect that the list will grow longer, not shorter. That's a matter of great grief, but it is also a matter of utmost importance and responsibility and it's simply reality in a fallen world and we had better face it.
Important Insights from Nomination Hearings in the Senate This Week: Merrick Garland and Xavier Becerra Hearings Make the Intentions of the Biden Administration Crystal Clear
But next, as we're thinking about our world, we shift to a different issue and this one has to do with the confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, as he's been nominated as the Attorney General of the United States by President Joe Biden. Now there's been a delay here and it has to do with the fact that so many of President Biden's nominees are running a bit late in the nominations process but what we are seeing is now very, very important.
Now, as you look at the mainstream media and they look at Merritt Garland's nomination and the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, there are some interesting twists and turns, but importantly, you're looking at pretty widespread bi-partisan support. That doesn't mean that republicans are particularly pleased with Judge Garland. It does mean that when it comes to an office like attorney general, one of the four big cabinet positions in seniority, it really does mean that the tradition of the United States Senate is to give presidents rather broad latitude and authority, in nominating persons to those roles.
It's been very rare in American history for a president's nominee to be turned down not, only for the cabinet, but in particular for those four big roles: Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Treasury, and also Attorney General.
Now, as you're also looking at these confirmation hearings, there's another political dynamic because it was basically five years ago that Merrick Garland was not given a hearing before the United States Senate and before this same committee, when President Barack Obama appointed him to the United States Supreme Court, to fill the seat that was then left by the sudden unexpected death of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. You'll recall that Republicans did not give him a hearing and eventually President Trump won the 2016 election and he made his own nominee to the court, eventually making three appointments to the US Supreme Court. But Merrick Garland is now back, and he's back as the nominee for Attorney General. And it is likely that he will be confirmed. And most of the positions that were articulated in the back and forth with senators this week, most of the conversation had to do with rather politicized issues, including a potential investigation into a Hunter Biden and the attorney general designee made very clear his intention to continue a justice department probe of the January 6 insurrection in Washington, DC.
But there's another issue that has a dual importance and relevance here. In the first place, because it's important. In the second place, because the mainstream media are basically boycotting the story. National Review reported, "President Biden's nominee for Attorney General, Merrick Garland, declined to say whether transgender females should be allowed to participate in women's sports programs during a Senate confirmation on his nomination that was held on Monday. Biden has signed an executive order calling on schools to allow transgender athletes to compete in sports competitions that match their gender identity. Various state legislatures, and some parents of female athletes, have protested that doing so would unfairly allow biological males to compete against women."
Senator John Kennedy, he's republican in Louisiana asked Merrick Garland, Judge Garland, whether he would agree that, "Allowing biological males to compete in an all-female sport deprives women of the opportunity to participate fully and fairly in sports."
The Attorney General nominee said, "That's a very difficult societal question." Senator Kennedy then retorted, "I know, but you're going to be Attorney General," meaning I know, but you're going to have to make decisions based upon this and we have a right to know what decisions you're intending to make.
After being pressed by Senator Kennedy, Judge Garland responded, "I think every human being should be treated with dignity and respect. The particular question of how Title IX applies in schools, is something that I would have to look at when I have the chance to do that. I've not had the chance to consider these kinds of issues in my career so far."
Now my summary of that is that whatever we're seeing there, it is not a profile in courage. At this point in America's public life, it's virtually implausible. I'll just say it, unbelievable that someone who is at this point in a judicial and legal career, and at this point in politics, being nominated as Attorney General of the United States, hasn't really thought through this issue.
Now, technically he may have a ground to stand on when he said that he hasn't had to consider these issues so far in his career because it may well be that this particular issue has not come before him in his role as a federal judge, but let's face it. This issue has now come before all of us and Judge Garland has actually had plenty of time to consider his position on this issue. That's also an indication that his answer, if truly known, would not have been pleasing to Senator Kennedy and to others. That's very believable. I think that's what we're looking at right now, very clearly in a Biden administration, because the executive order has already been signed. So, it's not as if we're wondering where the administration and the president stand.
The other big nomination hearing this week in the United States Senate is the hearing for the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary nominee, Xavier Becerra, formerly the Attorney General of California. And even when his nomination was announced on The Briefing, I discussed just how concerning, threatening this is, because we are looking at someone who has been one of the most aggressive, legal defenders of abortion and opponents of the pro-life movement. Someone who has tried to basically shut down, when you're looking at pro-life clinics and women's health centers, tried to shut down pro-life argument and to support argument for abortion in every way and for that matter legal access for abortion in every way.
You're talking about a man who basically accepts absolutely no restrictions on abortion whatsoever, and he does so without apology, and this came up in his hearing for HHS Secretary. By the way, he has no basic background in the issues covered by the Department of Health and Human Services. He, after all, was the Attorney General in California. So, we're looking at a very political appointment that has a very clear moral agenda.
Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney pointed out that as a member of Congress, Becerra had voted against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act and asked him about that. He said, "I have worked, as I have mentioned for decades, trying to protect the health of men and women, young and old. And as attorney general, my job has been to follow the law and make sure others are following the law." Now I'm going to stop there. That's a direct quote. It's a moral evasion. It's a political evasion.
He went on to say, "I will tell you that when it comes to these issues, I understand that we may not always agree on where to go, but I think we can find some common ground." Now that's a statement that Xavier Becerra has made before. And what I want us to note is, his definition of finding common ground is, abandoned the unborn and joined the revolution. That's become very clear when he's made those arguments before. Common ground, for the former Attorney General of California, means pro-life clinics cease to exist. Pro-life arguments, disappear. Abortion goes marching on. That's his definition of common ground.
Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana pressed Xavier Becerra on whether he would commit to the Senate to "not using taxpayer money to fund abortion and abortion providers." Here's how he responded. "I can say to you that we will follow the law when it comes to the use of federal resources." Well, just think about that. He has said nothing, any indication that he would not fund abortions, or he would not even press forward for interpretations of the law that would allow him, or he would argue would allow him to fund abortions. He simply saying that he will not break the law. I guess that's something, when it comes as a cabinet secretary nominee. He says, he's not going to break the law, but we all know what he's really making very clear is, he is not going to defend the unborn, nor to allow any restrictions on abortion if he has anything to say about it. And he is going to use, or allow it to be used, taxpayer money to pay for abortion, if he can find any opportunity.
Your Tweets Will Find You Out: Neera Tanden Faces Trouble on Both Sides of the Senate Aisle, Placing Her Nomination in Jeopardy
Finally, when it comes to President Biden's cabinet nominees, one is run into big trouble and it's bipartisan trouble and this is Neera Tanden, who has been identified with the Center for American Progress, a liberal activist group, since it was founded in 2003 and in latter years, she's been in charge of the organization.
What has come to light is the fact that Neera Tanden has had to take down about a thousand tweets that were absolutely acerbic and acidic, very caustic, not only towards conservative Republicans, but also towards Democrats, including those at least who were identified with the Democratic Party, as liberal as Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont.
But the reality is that Senator Joe Manchin in West Virginia, the most important key swing vote when it comes to so many of these issues, has indicated he will not support Neera Tanden and you have now some of the others, almost all republicans, saying they will not support her and so her nomination is thus in jeopardy; the first major nominee by the new president to be in this kind of political trouble and it was entirely avoidable trouble. He made this appointment, knowing that Neera Tanden was this controversial and that she had been extremely aggressive in her very clear criticism, right down to tweet she had to take down, not only against Republicans, but even against members of the Democratic Party.
All that to say, maybe we need to paraphrase scripture to say, "Beware. Be always mindful. Your tweets will find you out."
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.