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FIRST-PERSON: Baptist ethics group trumps up SBC anti-Semitism

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–In spite of their best efforts, enemies of the Southern Baptist Convention were unable to conjure up a controversy out of this year’s annual meeting in Phoenix.

Yes, there were the homosexual “Christians,” anarchists and Baptist peace activists who protested the SBC, doing their best to glob onto us for free press. And reporters were poised with their word processors warmed and ready for speakers to let loose on Islam, homosexuality or some other hot topic. Although the preaching and activities of this annual meeting were similar to past meetings that have garnered more attention, the press failed to find (or create) a spark of controversy.

In fact, several regular critics of Southern Baptists were impressed by the focus on addressing families in crisis and even the new effort to encourage ministry to homosexuals, while also maintaining the biblical teaching that such sexual perversion is contrary to God’s standard of morality.

Still, some enemies do not rest in their constant attacks on the SBC. One such group is the so-called Baptist Center for Ethics. Created in 1991 as a “moderate” alternative to the conservative Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, BCE is led by a former colleague of mine during our joint tenure at the ERLC (then called the Christian Life Commission).

An obscure ministry funded by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, two state Baptist conventions, and churches, BCE’s mission is “to provide proactive, positive and practical ethics resources and services to congregations,” according to its website, where it also declares, “When we started BCE, we recognized that too often Christians have been known for what we are against. We were convinced that it was high time for thoughtful Christians to be positive and proactive.”

Prattling on, BCE asserts, “So, we seek to reframe the way Christians think, talk and work on issues. BCE challenges Christians to be pro-health, not anti-alcohol; pro-women and pro-people of color, not anti-discrimination; pro-poor people, not anti-poverty; pro-family, not anti-abortion and anti-pornography; pro-sex education, not anti-human sexuality; pro-character development, not anti-moral failure. While it is more difficult to be positive than negative, we are committed to a constructive ethics agenda.”

Got it? BCE is “positive” and “constructive.” Perhaps “unethical” and “pro-anti-SBC” should be added.

Ethics did not stand in the way of BCE’s smear on Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. in its article on his June 16 speech to the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship. (In the interest of full disclosure, I note that I’m an alumnus, former administrator and current trustee of Southern Seminary.)

Since BCE was not in Phoenix, it had to rely on Baptist Press’ coverage of the address. BCE’s “positive” and “constructive ethics agenda” did not impede its slamming Mohler for his support of Jewish evangelism with an article provocatively and inaccurately headlined, “SBC Leader Compares Judaism to ‘Deadly Tumor.'”

Lifting and distorting the reference from near the end of the BP article and placing it in the headline and second paragraph of its story, BCE reported, “While Jewish evangelism is controversial today, Mohler said Christians do Jewish people a disservice by failing to confront them with the Gospel. He compared it to a person with a potentially deadly tumor, who would rather have a doctor give a truthful diagnosis than say all is well to avoid offending him.”

Here’s the way BP reported it: “He illustrated Jewish evangelism by comparing it to a medical doctor. A person with a potentially deadly tumor would want a doctor who would give them a truthful diagnosis, not one who would, in an effort to avoid offending them, tell them that all is well. In the same way, Christians must tell unsaved Jews and all non-Christians the truth of the eternal danger they face and steer them to salvation in Christ, Mohler said, and thus proclaiming the Gospel is a genuine display of Christian love.”

The important Mohler claim left out of BCE’s report is that Christians are obligated to share Christ with all who have not yet followed Him — that goes for any individual (Jew, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist) who is a non-Christian.

Specifically, BP reported: “‘The act of Christian truth-telling, telling the truth of the Gospel to an unbeliever, Jew or gentile, is the ultimate act of Christian love,’ Mohler said. ‘Evangelism is not driven by imperialism. It is not driven by nationalistic objectives. It is not driven by materialistic concerns,’ he said. Rather, evangelism is ‘the love of one sinner saved by grace to another sinner that is compelled by a greater love — and that is the love of that sinner for his Lord,’ Mohler said. We love our Lord and thus we obey His commandments.'”

In its bald attempt for attention, BCE’s story suggests that Mohler was guilty of some kind of anti-Semitic slur.

BCE also quotes a former Baptist pastor and expert on Jewish-Christian studies who rejects the notion that the New Testament teaches the necessity of Jewish evangelism. The story goes on to cite past statements and evangelism efforts by SBC leaders and entities to illustrate the strained relations between Southern Baptists and Jews in recent decades.

Predictably, the Anti-Defamation League seized on the BCE report to “condemn” Mohler’s “offensive remarks.” Abraham Foxman was “shocked and outraged that a leader in the Southern Baptist church would compare Judaism to a deadly tumor that needs to be removed.” In a follow-up article on ADL’s response, BCE found it ironic that the SBC adopted a resolution in Phoenix repudiating anti-Semitism.

It seems this Baptist group — funded by Baptist Christians in the CBF and like-minded groups — does not support Jewish evangelism. BCE’s coverage is aimed at undermining claims like Mohler’s and other Southern Baptists (and those of all true Christians since the First Century) that Jews need Jesus just like any other religious or ethnic group.

BCE’s reporting on the Mohler address was unique. Even two other “moderate” Baptist media outlets not sympathetic to the SBC reported Mohler’s comments in a balanced fashion. Further, The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., evenhandedly noted: “Mohler said that if someone had a cancerous tumor, the loving thing to do would be to tell that person about a cure. Likewise, Christians should tell Jews, like everyone else, about Jesus, he said.”

Its innovation in reporting this story earns BCE the distinction of being the first recipient of The Jayson Blair/New York Times Award for Creative Journalism, an honor I’ve decided to bestow, now and then, for particularly horrendous examples of biased and harmful reporting. No cash prize or plaque comes with the award; just the recognition BCE so desperately seeks.

Southern Baptist leaders like Mohler should be commended for courageously preaching Bible truth that all human beings are sinners and need salvation found only in Jesus Christ: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
James A. Smith Sr. is the executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness.

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  • James A. Smith Sr.