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FIRST-PERSON: Being salt & light

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (BP)–Southern Baptists are quick to speak up on a number of issues. Pastors nationwide do not hesitate for one second to decry abortion. They are quick to exhort the people in the pews to embrace family values. Proclaiming the sanctity of marriage is commonly heard from Southern Baptist pulpits from sea to shining sea. These values are proclaimed vociferously because, as we so accurately point out, Scripture clearly speaks to these issues, and of course we Southern Baptists are “people of the Book.”

Yet I fear that far too often, we Southern Baptists are more bark than bite, more bluster than action, when it comes down actually to doing what it takes to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. When it comes to doing the heavy lifting necessary to live out our biblical values, too often we are content to sit on the sideline to watch and cheer.

For a body of believers that could profoundly impact the moral fiber of the nation, we are, too often, absent. In California where I pastor, there are 1,800 Southern Baptist churches. In 2008, when the reality of legalized “gay marriage” threatened to rip out the core of our nation’s moral fiber, less than 10 percent of those churches were willing to rise up and actively do what was necessary to restore and preserve the biblical definition of marriage in the state. While grateful beyond words for those Southern Baptist pastors who did stand, I cannot help but wonder what the impact would be today if just half of the pastors of those 1,800 Southern Baptist churches would have risen up and joined in the movement.

The momentum from the effort in California reverberated throughout the nation in 2009. That momentum was instrumental in the November effort by the people of Maine to veto the attempt by its state legislature to legalize “same-sex marriage” by a wider margin than what passed Proposition 8. Churches of all denominations there were witnessing a remarkable truth: that when pastors would stand up and lead the people to fulfill their role as society’s moral voice, the Lord provides the results.

Yet despite the evidence borne out in California and in Maine, the city of Houston, Texas, became the largest American city to elect an openly homosexual mayor, thanks in large part to a dismally low voter turnout in December. With an opportunity to be the moral voice of Houston’s society, the church stayed home. This — in the so-called buckle of the so-called Bible Belt — is what causes me to wonder aloud: Where were Houston’s pastors, especially its Southern Baptist ones? If only half of the SBC pastors would have become visceral enough to urge their people to just go and vote their biblical values, would not the outcome have been significantly different?

Why is it that we have often sat on the sideline? My theory is that we have been content to write a check and send it to the proper activist agency, and thus our responsibility has been (at least in our minds) fulfilled. We once did that when it came to missions — we would write our three or four checks to Annie, Lottie, our state missions, and the Cooperative Program, and our missionary responsibilities (at least in our minds) were somehow fulfilled. Only recently have we as Southern Baptists become visceral in our missions effort — and it shows.

Yet I am discovering that this mentality has seeped over into our responsibility to be society’s moral voice. For far too long we as Southern Baptists have been content with writing a check to a citizenship organization or agency, and allowing those agencies to do the work while we sit back and watch moral decay legislated into law, all the while clicking our tongues in disdain, wondering where our country is heading when efforts to stand for moral truth fall short.

Proposition 8 was a huge victory in California — but had the majority of Southern Baptist pastors in California stood up with their brothers and friends statewide, the victory would have been more resounding. Houston’s Southern Baptist pastors had a golden opportunity to make a strong statement in their mayoral election, but sat out.

The point is this: Southern Baptists can make a difference in our nation’s moral climate. But will Southern Baptists make that difference?

It will depend on Southern Baptist pastors seeing the need for the pulpits of America to once again thunder with truth — the same kind of thunder that once came from America’s pulpits for decades. America’s pastors were so influential during the Revolution that British leaders called them the Black Regiment, so named for the black garb the pastors wore. Britain gave credit to the pastors in America for fueling the passion of the Revolution and stirring the hearts of American patriots. With so much at stake — the very moral core of our nation — is it not time for a new regiment of pastors to rise up at this hour?

We need to remember that God can call a person to serve in government just as much as He can call someone to preach. Our perspective on governmental service must change.

While a watchful eye needs to remain in Washington today, affecting Washington tomorrow will require a new strategy that targets the local level elections. The school board member today who might become the city council rep tomorrow, who might become mayor, who might become state senator, who might become governor, or congressman, or senator, or even president — that is where the focus must begin.

Jackson Senyonga of Uganda Revival said, “The condition of society is the report card of the church.” We can no longer afford to ignore these conditions and our role in affecting change. We can make a difference; we must make a difference. And we must start where we have been planted.

The next generation is looking to us. Let us together have a mind to this good work.
Chris Clark is pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego.

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  • Chris Clark