Editorial: How committed are Baptists to their principles?

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Two recent tweets ignited the fire of principle. The two tweets seem disparate, but they converge at the point of Baptist principles. One engages implications of voluntary cooperation; the other runs headlong against the lordship of Jesus Christ.

SBC Fact Check tweeted Sept. 7 a portion of a letter from Ronnie Floyd, executive director of the SBC Executive Committee, in which he suggested the committee be cautious about waiving attorney-client privilege during an investigation into itself. Religion News Service reported on the letter in an article we republished.

A tweet Sept. 11 showed a photo of a billboard quoting Isaiah 9:6—a messianic prophecy—next to an image of Donald Trump. Social media was abuzz, as you might expect.

How Baptists respond to and engage with the subject of these tweets—not just in social media posts and comments, but in “real life”—demonstrates how committed they are to their principles.

The message from messengers

During the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, messengers approved a motion by Grant Gaines, senior pastor of Belle Aire Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party review of the SBC Executive Committee.

The motion states: “Said task force shall ensure that the third-party review includes an investigation into any allegations of abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims, a pattern of intimidation of victims or advocates, and resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives. The investigation shall include actions and decisions of staff and members of the Executive Committee from January 1, 2000 to June 14, 2021.

“We further move that the task force agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

According to the portion of Floyd’s letter appearing in SBC Fact Check’s tweet, Floyd counsels the Executive Committee to be cautious about “the unusual step of waiving privilege,” suggesting the way in which it is done needs to be “consistent with our fiduciary duties.”

“The Executive Committee’s intent is absolutely committed to cooperating to the extent we can and also be consistent with our bylaws and with the trustees’ other fiduciary duties,” the letter continues.

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In other words, Floyd seems willing to cooperate with the will of the SBC’s grass roots—local church messengers—only to the extent it does not threaten the institution or its leadership. According to the principle of voluntary cooperation, however, the will of the messengers is Floyd’s willingness to cooperate—in full.

Seeming to hedge on the extent of cooperation, Floyd wrote, “One of the questions before you [the Executive Committee] … is about ‘accepted best standards and practices’ related to waiving attorney-client privilege.”

Another question the committee needs to consider is whether churches—who form the convention and, by extension, the Executive Committee through voluntary cooperation—should accept the will of the committee. Or does preserving the institution trump voluntary cooperation?

A messianic billboard

A clearer affront to Baptist principle was encapsulated in a recent billboard.

Deemed blasphemous by many Twitter users, the billboard showed—in all caps—words from Isaiah 9:6: “Unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” Behind this messianic prophecy waves an American flag; underneath reads, “Joint heirs Romans 8:17;” to the right is an image of Donald Trump.

Jeff Scott tweeted a photo of the same billboard, citing its location in “the Rossville/Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., area.” Other Twitter users confirmed the billboard contents and location. Scott tweeted Sept. 13 the offending billboard was covered by another advertisement.

No one seems to know who paid for the billboard, but that detail has limited relevance. More important is the fact people believe exactly what the billboard suggests—that Donald Trump isn’t just a messiah but is the Messiah. At least one person believes it enough to fork over thousands of dollars to proclaim it.

We might be tempted to blow it off, to react to tweets about billboards as themselves reactionary. We might want to turn our attention back to more important matters, things like telling people about Jesus. If we’re really going to do that, though, we’re going to have to make clear who Jesus is and who Jesus isn’t.

Baptists believe “Jesus is the exclusive Lord of life” and “no person or institution [is] lord of individual Christians or of churches.” The lordship of Jesus is predicated on Jesus—and only Jesus—fulfilling messianic prophecies such as that quoted on the Georgia billboard.

Among other qualifications, the Messiah must be from the Israelite tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10); be in the Davidic line (2 Samuel 7:12-16); be born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2); be born before 70 A.D. (Daniel 9:24-27); ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9); and endure humiliation, torture and death (Psalm 22:1-31; Isaiah 52-53).

No one on Earth today fits the description of the Messiah, nor will anyone other than Jesus fit that description.

If the lordship of Jesus Christ means anything at all, then the identification of any other person as the Messiah must be denounced by Baptists—including those prominent Baptists who so publicly supported Trump.

Voluntary cooperation and the lordship of Jesus Christ are just two Baptist principles on display, and the world is watching to see how committed Baptists are to them.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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