WASHINGTON (BP) — In the wake of President Trump’s first State of the Union address, the presidents of five Baptist state conventions say believers in the churches they lead hold diverse views on the commander-in-chief, but such diversity has not distracted or divided the congregations.
When queried by Baptist Press, three of the state convention presidents said church members appreciate at least some of Trump’s policies. Four mentioned misgivings about the president within the church body. All five said diverse opinions of Trump are no barrier to church unity.
The five state convention presidents to share their views with BP were A.B. Vines of the California Southern Baptist Convention, Stephen Rummage of the Florida Baptist Convention, Mike Stone of the Georgia Baptist Convention, Charles Frazier of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Juan Sanchez of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
The range of views noted by these Baptist leaders seemed to mirror, at least in part, religion journalist Terry Mattingly’s assessment of evangelical views on Trump in a Jan. 27 post for the Get Religion blog. Among evangelicals, Mattingly wrote:
— Some “supported Trump from the get-go.”
— Some “may have supported Trump early on, but they have always seen him as a flawed leader — but the best available.”
— Some “moved into Trump’s tent when it became obvious he would win the GOP nomination” for president.
— Some voted for Trump in the general election because they viewed him as “the lesser of two evils.”
— Some “never backed Trump and they never will,” but “they are willing to admit that Trump has done some good.”
— Some are among “the evangelical left,” reject “anything he touches” and voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election.
‘Keep politics out of the pulpit’
Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif., said, “We really try to keep politics out of the pulpit” in an effort to avoid mixing “our faith with a political party.”
“Tying ourselves to a party would damage our efforts to reach our community,” Vines said, noting he preaches on morals, values and character but never endorses a politician, including presidents.
At the same time, Vines said, Christians have a responsibility to speak prophetically when Trump’s words or actions violate God’s moral standards. It harms evangelicals’ witness — especially with members of ethnic minority groups — that some pastors seemed quick to criticize President Obama and now seem slow to criticize President Trump, said Vines, leader of a congregation that is approximately 50 percent African American.
Trump has enacted “policies that may have helped the Christian community,” Vines said, noting his nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But Trump’s “actions, his words, his statements hurt the Christians … When he does [sinful] things and we don’t say anything … or correct him, it pulls us all down.”
Diversity ‘not a distraction’
Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., said “Bell Shoals is united in praying for President Trump as he leads our nation. I have found that, while members of our church recognize flaws in President Trump, they are also very supportive for actions he has taken that are consistent with Christian values, such as protecting the unborn and promoting religious liberty.”
However, politics is not the church’s focus, said Rummage, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.
“Bell Shoals is a diverse congregation, and we are growing more diverse as God sends all kinds of people to our church,” Rummage said in written comments. “Whatever the diversity of our backgrounds may be, our common ground is the truth of Scripture, the cross of Jesus and our mission of reaching the world for Christ. Our diversity is not a distraction in our worship or ministry. In fact, diversity has strengthened our church, enriched our worship and made us more sensitive to the needs of our community.”
Concern for Trump’s soul ‘primary’
Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., said church members seem to experience “a consistent sense of cringing over [Trump’s] unnecessary use of profanity and other unwise and ungodly comments,” including “racially insensitive comments.”
“At the same time, there is a deep sense of appreciation for statements and actions related to the sanctity of human life,” Stone said in written comments. “For our congregation, this is a first-tier issue. Any president who stands on the right side of the life issue will have the support of our congregation versus any other candidate who will not defend life.”
Though not all church members voted for Trump in 2016, Stone said, “there has been no distraction in our congregation, largely because our corporate focus is on issues other than politics.”
The “primary subject of conversation about the president” among church members, Stone said, is “a genuine concern over the president’s relationship with Jesus.”
“This concern over his salvation is not based on his actions alone, but also on a well-publicized video in which he stated he has never asked God for forgiveness,” Stone said.
‘Pray for elected officials’
Frazier, pastor of Zion’s Cause Baptist Church in Benton, Ky., said the congregation he leads prays for the president.
“I have served as senior pastor for over 25 years, and I have always had different views of politics among members. I have not used the pulpit for a political platform. I encourage members to pray for elected officials whether they support them or not. In fact, I encourage my members to pray for our country,” Frazier said, citing Proverbs 21:1 to note God’s sovereignty over elected officials.
“God is in control of the world. It is our task to take the Gospel everywhere in our community and around the world. Our worship and service is to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. No person or political party should take His place,” Frazier said in written comments.
Unity ‘regardless of who is president’
Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, said the congregation he leads is “multiethnic” and “multicultural.”
“Consequently, our members’ views of President Trump run the entire spectrum,” Sanchez said in written comments. “However, in a membership of about 530, only an extremely small minority would have openly supported Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.”
The diversity of political viewpoints, Sanchez said, “is not a distraction” from worshiping or serving Christ.
“We believe that King Jesus is gathering a multiethnic, multicultural people to God the Father, by His Spirit, and through His Gospel Word. What displays the glory and wisdom of God is not merely that we are diverse, but that though we are diverse, we are united by faith in Christ,” Sanchez said.
“This is a constant drumbeat for us regardless of this election or any other,” he said. “We constantly remind ourselves that there is no human ruler, governor, dictator, prime minister or president that is worthy of our allegiance above King Jesus. We also speak openly and regularly about the temporary nature of any change that may come as a result of elections.”
Christians’ “citizenship is in heaven,” Sanchez said, adding, “Our mission is clear — to preach the Gospel to all peoples everywhere until King Jesus returns to establish His everlasting government once and for all. That is the only government that will last.”