As attention in and outside the Southern Baptist Convention has turned to the treatment of women and allegations of sexual harassment, last night’s speech by Vice President Mike Pence’s may have come as a welcome diversion.
That diversion concerns the scandal surrounding Paige Patterson who withdrew from giving the sermon at the SBC annual meeting and stepped down as chairman of the Evangelism Task Force following his termination as president emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. Patterson was accused of mishandling incidents of student rape at SWBTS and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
The scandal led to a broader discussion of the role of women in the denomination and its thousands of member churches.
The Pence speech at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting Wednesday has caused some, including the newly elected leader of the SBC, to rush to Twitter to criticize Pence for doing what politicians do–talk about politics.
Instead of focusing solely on faith, Pence delivered what some are calling a “full blown campaign speech.”
“When you look at the progress we’ve made over the last 500 days at home and abroad – a stronger America, a stronger economy, a stronger commitment to the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution – I think there’s only one way you can sum up this administration: 500 days of promises made and promises kept,” Pence said.
Pence went on to talk about President Trump and his numerous achievements, many of which have been applauded by Christians, including efforts to restore free speech rights to pastors.
“The president and I believe that the freedom of speech should not end at the threshold of our churches and places of worship. This president has taken action to end enforcement of the Johnson Amendment and we will not rest until it is repealed,” Pence said.
In the room, Pence’s speech was received with applause. But in the corridors afterwards and even during the speech, tweets were flying.
The SBC’s newly-named President J.D. Greear and others are concerned that their denomination has become too closely associated with support for President Trump, and he wants them to be viewed by the public as being all about Jesus instead.
Greear issued a statement on Twitter saying:
“We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the great commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
But Pence also had his supporters.
Pastor Jack Graham tweeted, “The @VP Mike Pence is a Godly and dedicated public servant who inspired the #SBC and blessed us with words of encouragement. So very glad he honored us by coming and delivering a message that rocked the house.”
“I know the SBC has welcomed politicians on occasion going back 45 years, but has there ever been a full-blown campaign speech like this one?” Trevin Wax, director of Bibles & Reference at LifeWay, tweeted.
Southern Baptist theologian Denny Burk responded to Wax, “This is a stump speech. Incredible.”
Beth Moore, a popular author and speaker has angered many leaders in the denomination for her focus on the lack of women both in leadership and in the pulpit. She agreed, adding, “I don’t know that there will not come a time in our lifetimes to accept that this is how it overwhelmingly is and how it is determined to be. What that will mean for the rest of us, God alone knows.”
Moore has been critical of the Trump administration on policy but has never acknowledged the administration has more women serving in positions of power in the West Wing than the entire 31 million member denomination.
North Carolina Pastor Clint Pressley tweeted, “I love America. I like Mike Pence. I hate this.”
Michael Wear, an evangelical podcaster who once worked in the Obama administration, took to social media to denounce the theme of Pence’s speech.
“I am saddened Pence [would] be so triumphalistic, so unabashed, so jingoistic. I’m more saddened that there would be people in the audience, messengers of the gospel (unless they’re outside guests), who would so revel in rubbing their politics in the faces of their brothers & sisters,” tweeted Wear on Wednesday.
After receiving criticism for what many consider public shaming of the Vice President for his speech, Greear issued a new tweet to clarify his position.
“I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do.”
Grant Ethridge, chairman of the Committee on Order of Business, responded to concerns saying, “As a committee, we feel to not show hospitality to those in authority would be a bad testimony for Southern Baptists.”
“I believe we respect the position regardless of whether or not you supported or voted for the person,” Ethridge said.
Observers muse that many Southern Baptist leaders such as those tweeting opposition to the Pence speech, may be out of touch with the denomination’s members and the members of their own congregations. It is estimated that over 85 percent of those members voted for the Trump ticket in 2016.
–Metro Voice and news services