ST. LOUIS (BP) — The “moral formation” and unity of the church are two vital considerations for a pastor in guiding God’s people during a disturbing presidential election season, attendees were told at the first of two 9Marks panel discussions held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
SBC entity heads and a pastor assessed the convention and its proceedings during a second 9Marks discussion the following evening. The sessions were sponsored by 9Marks, a church health ministry based in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission June 13 and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary June 14.
In the June 13 session, 9Marks President Mark Dever and ERLC President Russell Moore answered questions about pastors and politics. The discussion came during a campaign in which Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have made known their disappointment with both of the presumptive major party presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Some have declared they can vote for neither. Others have said they will support Trump because of Clinton’s liberal positions.
His primary concern, Moore said, when a church member asks a pastor how to vote “is going to be for the moral formation of my people.”
In this election, Moore said he thinks “there would be a very clear difference between someone who is simply walking into the voting booth and saying, ‘Let me try to decide between these two train wrecks,’ which I know a lot of people are doing, and what is happening in the moral degradation of many people supporting both of these two candidates and in so doing not only excusing clear injustice and immorality but, as Romans 1 would put it, heartily approving of that.
“The issue for me is not what happens to those two horrific candidates debating back and forth,” he said. “The issue for me is what happens to us.”
As a pastor, Dever said he would be concerned if he has “someone loudly in our church saying, ‘Morally, you cannot do this or that.'”
That “feels like Satan’s device to divide the church,” said Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “The way that I’ve heard evangelicals articulate support for a wide variety of political options to attain good ends, I may disagree with all of them that I hear. I may even think some of them involve sin,” but he wouldn’t prevent that person from taking communion.
He would try to understand what moral issues a church member can see are at stake in his or her vote, Dever told the audience.
During the session, Moore and Dever also addressed such issues as:
— Mourning as Americans in light of the June 12 shooting deaths in Orlando and ministering to gay people.
— Fostering unity among white and black members of a church.
— Responding to the federal government’s transgender directive to public schools, including the development of educational alternatives for Christians unable to afford private schooling.
On June 14, a panel moderated by Dever commented on the “unprecedented” nature of this year’s SBC presidential election. Even prior to J.D. Greear’s June 15 announcement he would withdraw from the race in favor of Steve Gaines, the presidential election had already become one for the SBC history books.
“The presidential election’s convolutions of the past few hours are nearly unprecedented,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He explained a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of all ballots to win, something that did not occur during the election and run-off earlier in the day.
“The election today was unprecedented,” echoed Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Seminary. “We’ve never had anything like this happen ever in the history of the SBC.”
Panelists noted the unique significance of a resolution overwhelmingly approved June 14 that repudiated display of the Confederate battle flag and its implications for racial unity among the body of Christ.
H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and an African American, said of the resolution. “The statement about the SBC and the seriousness of the hearts and concerns for racial unity in the body of Christ — I don’t think I have words to express that.”
Charles explained how the flag and the debate around it have become stumbling blocks for African Americans. Speaking of comments made by former SBC president James Merritt in support of the resolution and an amendment strengthening it, Charles said, “His statement was huge. It takes away a lot of things that are not true about Southern Baptists that are perceived from afar.”
International Mission Board President David Platt tied Merritt’s speech to the heartbeat of what the SBC is all about. “The whole picture is about getting the Gospel to North America and the nations,” Platt said. “That was the sticking point when he talked about all the Confederate flags in the world not being worth one soul. As long as we keep coming back to that centrality, then that’s what drives us.”
Platt connected the stewardship in the SBC entity reports to the long history of the IMB. “I think about the number of denominations and mission organizations that have wandered and have fallen totally away from the Gospel and evaporated, and 170 years later we’re proclaiming the Gospel all around the world. That’s a testimony,” he said.
Asked by an audience member about the biggest issues the SBC will face in the next five to 10 years, Akin said, “I think there are three things — the exclusivity of the Gospel, gender issues and the inerrancy of Scripture. If you say I am an inerrantist, I’ll know where you’re going to stand on the gender issue, and I’m pretty sure where you’re going to stand on the exclusivity of the Gospel.”
Mohler added, “The particular challenge for the SBC is the middle word. … There are a host of issues where we’re going to find out if we’re really Baptist or not.”