In the Weekend Wall Street Journal, Richard Land–the President of Ethics and Religious Liberty for the Southern Baptist Convention–was the feature interviewee of the week on the editorial page. Naomi Schaefer Riley was the interviewer.
I was neither surprised nor stunned at Land’s appearance in the WSJ–discussing political candidates–but rather put off by the sheer brazenness with which Land, a Southern Baptist Convention leader, has fashioned himself as the SBCs political representative.
For the record: unlike most of his would-be critics, I probably agree with most of Land’s assessments.
His political viewpoints are not far-removed from mine. I have voted Republican most of the time, although I have been known to support Democrats on occasion. I won’t vote for Hillary, Obama, Edwards, or Biden. I’m moderate-conservative on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage (they ought to be resolved at the state level), and libertarian on matters of monetary and fiscal policy.
While I generally support our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, I strongly oppose the nation-building exercise into which Bush has turned these endeavors. I also oppose the Leninist brand of conservatism known as neoconservatism.
Like Dr. Land, I don’t trust Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, and for the same reasons he doesn’t trust them. I also foresee a large sector of evangelical conservatives sitting out the 2008 election–or, like me, possibly voting libertarian–which would shatter the GOP, if the GOP doesn’t nominate a good candidate.
So what is my gripe with Land?
Let’s call him what he is: he is nothing more than a corporate lobbyist and political consultant. In this case, the corporation happens to be the largest Protestant denomination in America.
Some might ask what the difference is between Land and myself–who happens to bloviate on political matters quite extensively. Fact is, I don’t hold any high office in a religious establishment, nor do my opinions have any chance of being taken as the official stance of any religious establishment. While I have several reverends–and fellow laypersons–who take me seriously, I’m not a reverend, nor do my words carry any veiled threat, expressed or implied, to those would otherwise be inclined to tell me that I’m full of it.
Unfortunately, Land cannot say the same thing. He is among the inner-circle of the Sothern Baptist Convention; that is hardly news to anyone who follows such matters.
If he is endorsing a political candidate or speaking on an issue, you can bet serious money that almost every SBC leader at his level feels the same way, with dissent–if any–coming only with respect to details. You can also bet serious money that there is considerable pressure on local SBC preachers to avoid dissenting with Land, as there is considerable risk of significant repercussions within the denomination.
In fact, Land’s ruminations come very close to an official SBC endorsement of political candidates. That Land is only commenting on GOP candidates reflects that he–and the SBC–have become lackeys of a political party. In fact, some could say that, under the current SBC leadership, the SBC has become a wing of the GOP.
That is regrettable, as the ever-expanding reach of the State will one day make the SBC a group of useful idiots: they will become the vehicle toward the implementation of a State agenda.
Don’t believe me? Totalitarian governments do this all the time with the Church. Just go to Red China, or–if you want a kinder, gentler example–Sweden.
While I am extremely patriotic myself–if not for my back problems, I’d be in Iraq or Afghanistan right now–I also find it notable that China has “patriotic churches” which are just arms of the state.
Is the SBC marriage with the GOP compatible with the Biblical Jesus? I’d answer in the negative.
Jesus was not into political movements, and that is not for lack of efforts to recruit him. Some wanted him to lead a revolution to overthrow Rome; others tried to recruit him for their anti-tax agenda; others tried to get him to intervene as a judge to divide inheritances; others sought to get him on their side with respect to religious controversies such as divorce; others sought to get him to conform to their traditions.
And therein lies the problem: politico-religious movements–from far left to far right–are inclined to present Jesus in a way that conforms to their politico-religious bent. Ergo, the far left will present Jesus as Che Guevara on a cross where the far right will present him as the first coming of Bob Jones.
They all miss the point: Jesus doesn’t conform to our models; He intends to conform us to His expectations.
When Jesus spoke on issues, he did in such a way that he never left anyone happy. Those who present him as a liberal activist would be hard-pressed with his teachings on divorce and remarriage (which even get conservatives in fistfights). Hardshell baptists, on the other hand, would have a hard time reconciling his willingness to fellowship with “sinners” with their separatism.
While much can be said for the pro-life position in opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and genocide–and I support such causes–Jesus didn’t expend any energy on those matters.
Nor did he provide any great commission with respect to ecological matters. He provided no governmental redistributionist commands, no commands with respect to sex education. In fact, the Bible has no specific command toward any economic framework: Capitalist, Socialist, Communist, or anything in between. (In spite of my support for free markets, Biblical libertopia died when Israel insisted on having a king “like everyone else had”. Sadly, from a collective standpoint, people are not generally inclined toward personal liberties.)
Unfortunately, marrying the Church with a political movement does little or nothing to improve politics while sullying the Church and running the risk of one day making the Church an arm of the State.
The United Methodists, Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopalians, and United Church of Christ have been politically-involved for most of the last century. Today, few people take mainline denominations seriously, as parishioners are bailing out of them like passengers on the Titanic. (The reasons for this go far beyond the political, but suffice it to say that this political involvement is a key dimension of those bodies losing their real focus.)
That same dynamic–or worse–could become the future of the SBC, and for much of the same reasons.