Denny Burk

Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

To understand what's happening at the top of the Southern Baptist Convention these days, you really have to be willing to believe that, in the end, many religious believers truly believe that religious doctrine matters more than partisan politics.

Yes, I know. The headlines insist otherwise. Headlines tend to increase a few picas in size the minute the word "evangelicals" gets connected to the words "Donald Trump."

Here's a case in point. This past week, The New York Times basically ignored the dramatic national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention -- with lots of developments linked to women and Baptists of color -- until it was possible to write a story with this headline: "Pence Reaches Out to Evangelicals. Not All of Them Reach Back."

But, hey, at least that one story did make an important point: One of the crucial tensions inside this particular SBC gathering was between clashing camps of solid "evangelicals." Actually, lots of people on both sides of that SBC debate about the Pence appearance would, under other circumstances, be called "fundamentalists" in the sacred pages of the Times.

This brings me to this weekend's think piece, which was written by Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the 9Marks Journal and an active leader at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of a new book entitled, "How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age."

The headline: "Truth, Power, and Pence at the SBC." Here's how this essay opens: 

I’m sitting here at the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier today Vice President Mike Pence addressed the convention. We were told he initiated the offer to speak. I wish we had not accepted.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful to God for our nation. I want him to bless it. But here’s a question for my fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals more broadly: can you name a place in the Bible where God sends a ruler of a (non-Israelite) nation to speak to God’s people? Is the pattern not just the opposite?

Now, what's this all about? Is it a missive from a "moderate" (which means "liberal," in current SBC speak) at an urban church in a blue-zip DC zip code within shouting distance of the Capitol dome? 

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Southern Baptists, domestic violence and divorce: Will SBC '18 be a must-cover press event?

Southern Baptists, domestic violence and divorce: Will SBC '18 be a must-cover press event?

What happens if the Rev. Paige Patterson -- one of the two generals who led the conservative revolt that seized the SBC in the late '70s and early '80s -- insists on standing in the media spotlight and delivering the official convention address?

What happens if the convention's resolution committee is buried in resolutions making it absolutely clear that (a) Southern Baptists believe domestic violence is a crime as well as a sin and (b) that the safety of the abused is Job 1 and that the careful, essential work of reconciliation and attempting to save the marriage follows justice and the abuser's repentance?

What happens if there are demonstrations, not just by outsiders, but by the young generations of SBC conservatives whose voices last year helped produce the historic resolution condemning the alt-right and white supremacy?

Yes, we had a lot to talk about during this week's "Crossroads" podcast that focused on the complex story surrounding Southern Baptist debates -- on Twitter and in the media -- about domestic violence, divorce, the Bible and a Patterson interview tape from 2000 about all of the above. Click here to tune that in. You can click here to see my original post on this topic.

For an update, here's the top of a new Washington Post story (by former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey) about the controversy:

FORT WORTH -- A prominent Southern Baptist leader whose comments about spousal abuse set off a firestorm last week said in an interview Friday that he couldn’t “apologize for what I didn’t do wrong.”

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Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

When it comes to lesbians and gays in the ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks with a clear voice. So that doctrinal stance really isn't news anymore.

When it comes to ecclesiastical approval for same-sex marriage liturgies, the ELCA -- at this point -- leaves that decision up to local leaders. So it really isn't news when an ELCA congregation backs same-sex marriage.

When it comes to ordaining a trans candidate for the ministry, some folks in the ELCA have crossed that bridge, as well. So an ELCA church embracing trans rights isn't really news.

So what would members of this liberal mainline denomination need to do to make news, when releasing a manifesto on issues of sex, gender and marriage? That was the question raised by the recent "Denver Statement" that was released by (and I quote the document):

... some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearering Christians at House for All Sinners & Saints (Denver, Co).

That was also the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I addressed in this week's podcast. So click here to tune that in.

Now, in terms of news appeal, it helps to know that this relatively small, but media-friendly, Denver congregation was founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a 6-foot-1, tattooed, witty, weight-lifting, frequently profane ELCA pastor who has graced the bestseller lists at The New York Times. She's like a superhero who walked out of liberal Christian graphic novel.

So the Denver Statement made some news because it was released -- at Bolz-Weber's "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog -- in reaction to the Nashville Statement that created a mini-media storm with its rather ordinary restatement of some ancient Christian doctrines on sexuality.

So if the Nashville Statement was news, then it made sense that -- for a few reporters and columnists (including me) -- that the Denver Statement was also news. (Oddly enough, a previous statement on sexuality by the Orthodox Church in America -- strikingly similar to the Nashville Statement -- made zero news.)

But here's another journalism issue: Was the Denver document news merely because it openly rejected what the Nashville Statement had to say?

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On the Nashville Statement, one national newspaper offers less slanted coverage than another

On the Nashville Statement, one national newspaper offers less slanted coverage than another

If you — like me — have been focused on news related to Harvey victims, you might have missed the headlines concerning a statement on sexuality released by evangelical leaders who convened in Nashville, Tenn., last week.

James A. Smith Sr., vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, alerted me to the news.

Smith criticized the Washington Post's coverage of the news, calling that national newspaper's story "very biased."

Certainly, the Post's headline presents the news with a negative bent:

Evangelicals’ ‘Nashville Statement’ denouncing same-sex marriage is rebuked by city’s mayor

Compare that headline with the more neutral one offered by USA Today:

More than 150 evangelical religious leaders sign 'Christian manifesto' on human sexuality

The Post's lede:

A coalition of evangelical leaders released a “Christian manifesto” Tuesday asserting their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and condemning the acceptance of “homosexual immorality or transgenderism.”
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood outlined the views in what it called “The Nashville Statement,” and offered it as guidance to churches on how to address issues of sexuality. A group of evangelical leaders, scholars and pastors endorsed the statement Friday at a conference in Nashville. It was initially endorsed by more than 150 people.

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Gay rights, street preachers, and narrative preferences

When I was 12-years-old I developed an unhealthy addiction to Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Perhaps due to my own lack of imagination, I became hooked on the books where an author would frame a story in which I was the hero. (In case you’re too old or too young to remember this Gen-X genre favorite: each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome.) Although each book could have up to forty possible endings — some were “good” (e.g., I save the day) and some “bad” (e.g., I die an ignoble death) — the only endings I considered to be “real” were the ones that aligned with what I’d call my “narrative preference” (i.e., I’m a hero).

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