Dollywood, Lesbians & the Neidermeyer Complex

You may know him as The Maestro — Bob Cobb — from several memorable episodes of Seinfeld.  But, before Mark Metcalf was The Maestro, he was Neidermeyer, the tightly wound ROTC officer in the 1978 John Landis-directed classic, Animal House.  Neidermeyer, who was a thorn in the Deltas’ side, always exerted his “authority” in ham-fisted ways.  Give someone a little bit of power and too many times he uses it in a completely moronic way like Douglas Neidermeyer.

Sadly, the Neidermeyer Complex is alive and well in our land today.  The latest example comes from that bastion of family fun and frivolity known as Dollywood.  Located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood is indeed a great family attraction.  When we lived in SW Virginia, we would make at least one 3-hour trip to Dollywood every year.  Christmas-time at Dollywood is particularly impressive.

What’s not so impressive is the Neidermeyer-like job that a Dollywood ticket-taker did several weeks ago.  It seems that a lesbian couple, Jennifer Tipton and Olivier Odom, were visiting Dollywood’s Splash Country

“water park July 9 with friends and their friends’ two children when she (Odom) was asked by a person at the front gate to turn her shirt inside out because it was a family park.” (full article here)

Both Dollywood and Dollywood’s Splash Country have dress codes.  The pertinent part of Splash Country’s “Policies and Dress Guidance,” addressed as a FAQ entitled “What should I wear when I visit?” simply states:

Only swimsuits are allowed on the water attractions.  No swimsuits with buckles, rivets, or any sharp objects, no denim, corduroy or cutoffs allowed.  Shirts are not permitted on the body slides (no exceptions).  Thong swimsuits are not permitted.  Shirts with profanity are not permitted. (FAQ here)

While the main Dollywood theme park does have a more extensive dress code (here), that dress code would not have applied at the water park.  Other than “shirts with profanity,” there are no additional guidelines concerning what types of shirts — often only used as a cover-up while walking into and out of a WATER PARK — can be worn inside Splash Country.

With that in mind, what profanity-laced shirt was Ms. Odom wearing as she attempted to enter the water park?  You might want to sit down for this or avert your eyes if you are a particularly sensitive type.  The message on the front of the shirt that caused such an uproar said:  [Marriage is so gay]

Shocking!  No wonder they made her turn her shirt inside out so that the offending message would not be seen by the families at Splash Country.  Wouldn’t want them to see such profanity.  However, as I have been at similar water parks, I can speak from first-hand experience that there are far more offensive and revolting sights to be seen!

In trying to defend such a Neidermeyer-esque, bone-headed move, Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens said:

“Dollywood is open to all families, but their dress code policy is to ask people with clothing or tattoos that could be considered offensive to change clothes or cover up.” (see here)

That’s interesting.  Neither Dollywood’s nor Splash Country’s dress codes or guidelines even refer to tattoos.  Is Mr. Owens seriously trying to argue that visitors to Dollywood who have tattoos may have to cover them up before they can enter the park?  When was the last time that happened?  With more and more men and women sporting tattoos, this policy — which is not on their website — is completely non-sensical.  Talk about pulling a Neidermeyer.

But, let’s say for the sake of argument that clothing that “could be considered offensive” was grounds to ask someone to change (who has an extra shirt when they come to Dollywood?) or in the case of Ms. Odom, to turn her shirt inside out?  Who gets to decide what “could be considered offensive?”  Will we have Neidermeyer types stationed at every entrance to Dollywood, on the look-out for that which would offend?  If that’s the case, we will have mighty long wait times just to walk into the park.

No one can reasonably argue that Ms. Odom’s shirt contained profanity.  While I disagree with the message on her shirt, it in no way can be considered profanity.  If it is, then we have so diluted the meaning of that word that any and everything — especially messages we don’t agree with — will now be considered profanity.

Most likely, the overzealous Dollywood employee who exerted his or her authority to make Ms. Odom turn her shirt inside out was motivated by their objections to gay marriage.  (For the record, I am opposed to same-sex marriage).  Some might be tempted to say, “Good for them.  We need people to take a stand against that which is offensive.  I would have done the same thing.”

That maybe all well and good, but I seem to remember seeing a fair amount of shirts being worn at Dollywood and other public places which may fall into the suspect category of “highly offensive.”  Some of these shirts have messages that even depict violence.  Many of the shirts not only have pictures, but are accompanied by written messages that many within our culture find blatantly offensive.

So, if you want Dollywood to ban [Marriage is so gay] shirts as offensive, then you will have no problem in them banning the Christian-themed shirts that so many students and adults wear to proclaim the life-changing message of the Gospel and the Cross.  You can be a Neidermeyer and exert your authority to ban messages that you find offensive (I’m not talking about crude or profanity-laced messages). 

Or you can be someone who is tolerant (not accepting) of messages on shirts that you personally disagree with.  The next time you reach for your Christian-messaged shirt to wear to Dollywood or Disney World, just remember the old adage:  “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”   

Posted in Christianity, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedoms, Homosexual Agenda, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Questioning Calvinism & Watching the Mud Fly!

Since starting From Law to Grace in July 2010, I have published 179 posts (including this one) “discussing the intersection of law, religion, and politics in culture and Baptist life.”  With articles dealing with the Great Commission Resurgence, the new NAMB, the Southern Baptist Convention, President Obama, Islam, Hollywood, and Homosexuality, I have received my fair share of feedback and comments.

While almost all comments over the last year have been respectful (I think I’ve only moderated one or two comments which were blatantly offensive), I have enjoyed the interaction and dialogue with the readers of From Law to Grace, particularly with those folks who may not have agreed with what I wrote (you know who you are).

If you would have asked me last July to predict which posts would have been read the most, I would probably not have been able to accurately guess.  Looking back, however, it’s not too surprising that posts dealing with SBC politics — The New NAMB: 7 Years Sure Goes By Fast and The Slow Death of the Cooperative Program — were the top two posts of the past year.  I’m still somewhat flummoxed that my post, Limiting Your Audience: Janeane Garafalo and Criminal Minds, was the fifth most read post of the year.  I never thought that Ms. Garafalo would attract readers.  Who knew?

But, if you combine hits with comments, there was no contest as to which one of my posts was the most “popular.”  Coming in at number four in terms of readers, but number one for comments, was my first post on a subject that brings out the best and worst in people — Calvinism.

In SBC’s New Calvinism & Patriotic Worship: Part 1, I entered into an area fraught with many dangers, toils, and snares.  I won’t say that I was unprepared for the blowback that I received both here (and at SBCVoices), but the intensity of some of Calvinism’s defenders that was on display was eye-opening, to say the least.

It seems that discussing Calvinism, particularly as it relates to life within the Southern Baptist Convention, will often lead to mud-slinging — early and often.  Granted, the mud can come from all parties involved (including me), but from my observation, it seems that even the slightest questioning of Calvinism or the sharing of negative personal experiences or observations concerning Calvinism are grounds for a direct and swift counter-attack, often with much more force than was warranted.

The latest example of this counter-attack strategy can be clearly seen in response to an article written by SBC Plodder, William Thornton, posted at SBCVoices on Tuesday.  Entitled “Why I’m Wary of Calvinists,”   Thornton shares HIS OWN experiences with Calvinists.  These personal experiences, which he readily admits are anecdotal, have obviously shaped his view of Calvinists, leading him to his personal position of being wary of Calvinists in general.

In stating his three main observations, Mr. Thornton was careful to point out that these did not apply exclusively to Calvinists.  However, as he was obviously writing about his own personal experiences with Calvinists, his arguments were limited to Calvinists.  He concludes his OP by writing:

Perhaps my experience is atypical and an aberration. I’d be pleased to know that is the case. If not, I’ll look askance at Calvinists but still rejoice when Christ is preached and Christ is preached by every Calvinist I know.

I do not know exactly when on July 26 that William’s article was published at Voices, but it did not take too long for the defenders of Calvinism to help prove that Pastor Thornton’s observations and experiences might not have been atypical afterall.  Instead of acknowledging that the experiences and observations of William Thornton (a respected pastor and blogger) might have been true, most Calvinists commenting not only did not interact with Thornton’s observations, but they dismissed them out-of-hand.

Why is it so hard for those on opposite sides of theological issues to acknowledge that their “opponent’s” observations and/or experiences maybe true?  Just because we make that acknowledgment does not mean that we are somehow bound to then accept our opponent’s theology.  Would it hurt to say to someone like William Thornton,

“I don’t doubt that you have had bad experiences with some Calvinists, but I want to let you know that the behavior you observed is an aberration.  I’m sorry that this brother — who called himself a Calvinist — acted like he did.  He was wrong and he shouldn’t have done what he did to destroy that church.”

Instead, we get full counter-attacks which not only do not acknowledge another brother’s experiences, but in fact come close to (and at times do) calling him a liar who does not know what he is talking about, even though he has shared his personal experiences and observations.  There are a few folks who will never be convinced that there are any Calvinists who have destroyed churches (just as there are those who will never be convinced that there are non-Calvinists who have detroyed churches).

I’m fully aware that this post will be misinterpreted as an assault on Calvinists.  No matter how delicately I might phrase something, there will always be the _________   __________’s of the world — the ardent defenders of all-things Calvinist — who will jump on anything that is written that is not completely, 100% in agreement with Calvinism.  As a confessing (although admittedly inconsistent) 5-Point Calvinist, I’m okay with that.  Let the comments (hold the mud) fly!

Posted in Blogging, Calvinism, Christianity, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Obama’s Debt Problem vs. Ramsey’s Debt Solution

“Now, every family knows that a little credit card debt is manageable.”  (President Barack Obama’s Speech on Debt Talks, July 25, 2011)

The President is apparently not a fan of Dave Ramsey.  It would not surprise me if Obama has never heard of the popular author, speaker, and radio/tv personality.  Through his Biblical and common-sense approach to finances, Ramsey has helped millions of American families get out of — and stay out of — debt. 

His books, including The Total Money Makeover, as well the 13-week course, Financial Peace University, are counter-cultural prescriptions for the financial ills of our country — staggering debt and staggeringly little savings for most American families.  In fact, consumer debt has become so overwhelming for the average family that stress levels related to money are up 17%. 

That Obama would say — and perhaps believe — that “every family knows that a little credit card debt is manageable” illustrates why this President — for all the talk of the “middle class” — will never truly identify with families who are struggling to make ends meet, all the while trying to keep their homes from being foreclosed on and their cars from being re-possessed.  To say that a little credit card debt is manageable for everyone is akin to saying that a little alcohol is manageable for everyone.  Not only are those statements not true — there are millions of families who have learned the hard way that even the tiniest credit card debt is not manageable nor is tiniest drink manageable — but both statements can lead families down a terribly destructive path.   

The prevailing wisdom in Washington — as personified by President Obama — clearly demonstrates the reason why the solutions to America’s financial problems will not come from Washington.  They most certainly will not come from this President, who daily reminds the American people just how ill-equipped a former community organizer is at leading the greatest country on the face of the planet.

Our nation’s debt crisis will not be solved by the politicians in Washington, no matter what the outcome of the current debt ceiling talks.  For all the trillions of dollars thrown at our nation’s economic problems over the last three years, most Americans have not really experienced an economic recovery.  That’s why we need a great recovery — one that will not start at the White House, but rather one that will start in the houses of individual families throughout America.

What is the “Great Recovery” that Dave Ramsey is advocating for America?

The Great Recovery is a grassroots movement spread by people who are tired of looking to Washington for answers. The truth is that the government can’t fix this economy. It’ll be restored one family at a time, as each of us takes a stand to return to God and grandma’s way of handling money.  Together, we’ll bring this country back on track—one family, one church, one community at a time.

Are you tired of living paycheck to paycheck?  Do you want to get out of debt and start saving money?  Are you ready to “live like no one else today so later on you can live like no one else?”  Do you want to be a part of a grassroots movement that will change our nation — not just financially, but spiritually as well?  If you are ready, then go to The Great Recovery and join millions of other Americans who are making a difference in their families and communities. 

While the political elites dither over solving the nation’s debt crisis, remember that the Great Recovery really starts with me.  And it starts with you.  What are you waiting for?  Become a part of the solution today!

Posted in Culture, Family, Government, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cru: Taking Crusade & Christ Out of Their Name

In a rather mind-boggling display of irony, the Christian organization responsible for producing the “JESUS” film has decided that having Christ in their name was just too much for the sensibilities of the modern world.  Campus Crusade for Christ, founded by Bill and Vonette Bright in 1951, will henceforth be known as “Cru.”  I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

The ostensible reason from changing this venerable and well-known para-church group to Cru was because the word “Crusade” apparently alienates a lot of people.  Okay.  If that is the case, then why change your name to “Cru,” which I think are the first three letters in the word CRUsade?  This makes absolutely no sense, but there always seems to be a justification for these continual bows to modern, anti-Christian culture.  In fact, Steve Sellers, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Vice President, in arguing for the name change, said:

“We felt like our name was getting in the way of accomplishing our mission,” . . . noting that the ministry will still be committed to “proclaiming Christ around the world.”

How do you suppose that the powers-that-be at CCC realized that their name was causing so many problems in evangelizing on college campuses throughout the world?  You guessed it — an opinion poll.  It seems that polling data confirmed that 9% of Christians and 20% of non-Christians found the name — Campus Crusade for Christ — offensive.  Apparently less than 10% of those polled who identified as Christians (whatever their definition of Christian may have been) and only 1 in 5 non-Christians who were polled were enough to sway Campus Crusade for Christ to ditch their name. 

I’m still not quite sure how their mission of “proclaiming Christ around the world” will be more effectively accomplished by taking Christ out of their name.  And, when I say Christ, I really mean Jesus.  There is something about the Name of Jesus Christ that will always be offensive to non-believers.  After all, isn’t Jesus a stumbling block and a stone of offense?  We certainly wouldn’t want to offend anybody with the Name that is above every other name, now would we?  What’s next?  Removing crosses from our churches and replacing them with globes.  But, I digress.

Sensing that the name change might not go over well with followers of Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ Cru brought out a big gun in defense of the seemingly indefensible — Vonette Bright, who along with her late husband, Bill, co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ.  I’m not sure if Mrs. Bright said the following or it was just spun re-phrased by Vice President Sellers:

“When Bill Bright started the organization, he told his wife that someday they would have to change the name,” Sellers said. “As early as the late ’70s and ’80s he was looking at making the name change.” (article here)

Considering that Bill Bright died in 2003, a good 20 years after Mr. Sellers claims that Bright was looking at a name change, one could conclude that either Bill Bright was extremely slow in his decision-making process or that he did not think that Campus Crusade for Christ was a hindrance to proclaiming the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.

But, when we become so concerned with being liked, then we begin to water down the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That may or may not be our intent, but that is where we end up.  Said Sellers:

“Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name.”

What could be more overtly Christian than the Name of Jesus Christ?  For Cru (formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), being that overt is apparently just too much in a post-modern, post-Christian world where popularity has become the new standard for measuring Gospel “success.”  But, if popularity is a barometer of fidelity to the Gospel, then a certain church in the Houston, Texas area would be our model for a faithful Christian witness.  Alas, it is not.  Or for Cru, maybe it is.

Posted in Christianity, Evangelism, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

After a Respite, From Law to Grace Returns

Following my trip to Phoenix for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, where I planned on live blogging, but instead ended up spending most of the time in my hotel room sicker than I have been in a long, long time, I thought that I would get back to blogging straight away.  For good or for bad, that did not happen.  In the last month, I have taken a much-needed respite from blogging, not only to regain my physical strength, but also my spiritual and emotional strength.

Even after a week of teaching 23 5th & 6th graders at the Big Apple Adventure Vacation Bible School last week and a trip to Albuquerque for a Baptist Convention of New Mexico Executive Board Meeting/Vacation with my family this week, I am strangely re-energized and ready to start writing again (that after spending the whole day at Cliff’s Amusement Park and going on a few rides that I shouldn’t have).  Most of my blog posts have been written between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. (as this one is).  Since my illness in Phoenix, I simply did not have the stamina to stay up and write late into the night.  Even though I don’t consider myself old, my body just doesn’t want to bounce back like it did just a few short years ago!

However, after spending summer vacation with my focus on my family and after catching up on much need rest in the evenings, it’s time to start engaging with the world of religion, politics, and culture — both inside and outside the Southern Baptist Convention.  So, From Law to Grace will be back on Monday with a new look and a new attitude.  Thank you to all of my readers — those who have read from the beginning since last July and for those who may have just discovered my blog in the last few days.  I truly appreciate everyone who reads and comments, especially those who may not always agree with what I write.  May God grant each of us grace for the journey!  God bless.

Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Southern Baptists, Immigration & Ducks

“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Despite their best efforts, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Resolutions Committee cannot convince some Southern Baptists (including this one) that their Immigration Resolution was not a call for the government to grant amnesty to 12-15 million “undocumented immigrants.”  That the Gospel was used as a test of whether one has true compassion for the undocumented immigrants among us makes the arguments for the passage of this Resolution all the more unconvincing and unpersuasive.  In the end, the Immigration Resolution had the walk, quack, and look of a duck (i.e., amnesty), and there was nothing that the Resolutions Committee could do to change that fact.  That they had to add a clarification “Resolved” only after a razor-thin victory on an unfriendly amendment shows just how tenuous the Immigration Resolution was from the get go.

Perhaps more than any other issue that confronted the lowest number of messengers to attend an Annual Meeting of the SBC since 1944, the Immigration Resolution not only shows the disconnect between grass-roots Southern Baptists and the leadership of the Convention, but it blows a hole in the facade of unity that was carefully orchestrated for this year’s Phoenix Convention.  I’m not sure about your church, but if I had a split vote on a major initiative, I don’t think I would view that as a unified body.  But hey, maybe that’s just me.

Like the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists, I found myself (due to illness)unable to attend any of the Annual Meeting (although I made the trip to Phoenix).  As I have read about the original Immigration Resolution that came out of the Committee and the subsequent floor fight regarding the original language and some substitute language, it has become more apparent that some within the leadership class of the SBC are moving in what can only be described as a more moderate direction — politically if not theologically.  I could not agree more with SBC Plodder, William Thorton, who said of the Immigration Resolution:

“When I read the resolution I thought that it sounded just like what the CBF would do, if they did resolutions.”

As I read the Immigration Resolution at SBCVoices (here), I had the feeling I was reading something that a moderate or left-wing political and/or religious group had come up with.  If you would have told me that this kind of Resolution would come out of an SBC Resolutions Committee — much less pass on the floor of the Convention — I would have said, “No Way!”  But, apparently there was a will and a way for this Resolution to pass.  Of course, the pink elephant in the room is that less than 3,000 messengers “spoke” for 16 million Southern Baptists.  The bad news is that this small gathering has put the SBC on record regarding immigration and amnesty (notwithstanding the “clarifying” amendment that the Committee offered).  The good news is that this Resolution has absolutely no authority over any of the 45,000+ autonomous churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.

If the Immigration Resolution would have limited itself to the Gospel and the Church’s obligation to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone — regardless of their race, ethnicity, or immigration status — then there would have been almost universal support for this Resolution not only among the assembled messengers but, the SBC at large.  Who could rationally argue that the Great Commission does not compel us to take the Gospel to the nations?  Who would try to make the case that we should not love our neighbor as ourself?  To try to argue that we are not more culturally and ethnically diverse as a nation would be irrational indeed.  But, nevertheless, these statements would have met with broad approval.

However, what almost doomed this Resolution from the beginning was the language used, including substituting a politically correct term of the left — undocumented immigrants — for the more accurate nomenclature — illegal alien or illegal immigrant.  Why are some immigrants undocumented whereas others are documented?  I guess it must be the legal documents that one should get before entering into this country.  Who knew?

Before getting to the most egregious part of the Resolution, there was one “Whereas” clause which needs more clarification:

WHEREAS, The relative invisibility of the immigrant population can lead to detrimental consequences in terms of health, education, and well-being, especially of children;

While the above “Whereas” is self-evident, what should be done in regards to the detrimental consequences in terms of “health, education, and well-being, especially of children?”  Does this mean that the states and the legal residents should pay for health and education benefits for illegal immigrants?  Should college tuition and health insurance be provided for those who are here illegally?  Should illegal immigrants have the ability to secure driver’s licenses?  It’s one thing to state the obvious.  It is quite another to talk about specific government policies which confer benefits on those who are here illegally. 

The final straw for almost half the messengers in Phoenix was the fifth “Resolved” clause:

RESOLVED, That we ask our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country;

You can call this clause whatever you like, but most people reasonably understand this language — the language used by liberal groups and pro-comprehensive immigration proponents in Congress — as one of amnesty.  In an almost evenly divided vote, 723 messengers wanted to strike the fifth “Resolved” entirely from the Resolution.  When that amendment barely lost, the Resolutions Committee apparently re-grouped and offered a “clarifying” amendment later that afternoon:

RESOLVED, That this resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant; (added by amendment)

That the Committee itself offered this amendment says at least two things:  1)  They understood that the original language in the fifth “Resolved” clause could reasonably be interpreted as a call for amnesty; and, 2)  The Committee knew, that without this clarification, that the entire Immigration Resolution may have been defeated on the floor of the Convention.  Talk about an embarrassing situation.

Even though a majority of messengers ended up voting for the amendment and the overall Resolution, this entire Immigration debate in Phoenix illustrates just how divided Southern Baptists are on some of the major issues of the day (the other being our response to homosexuality within our culture).

In the end, did we really need this Resolution?  As a pastor in New Mexico, a majority Hispanic state which shares a border with Mexico, our church freely shares the Gospel in a diverse culture.  I have never once thought about asking anyone coming to church whether they were here legally or illegally.  The Gospel is the Gospel and it is to be preached to all people — regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or immigration status.  It is simply not my job to determine anyone’s citizenship or immigration status.

However, I expect the government to secure our nation’s borders.  I expect them to determine if someone is here legally before they can obtain a driver’s license (although illegals can in New Mexico).  Living only 100 miles north of Juarez, Mexico, one of the most violent towns along our border (across the river from El Paso, TX), we should expect that the borders will be secure.  Until they are — and we’ve got along way to go — we should not even be talking about “compasionate paths to legal status” amnesty.  And for those who think that a friendly amendment offered by the Resolutions Committee to save their Immigration Resolution somehow turned the amnesty clause into an non-amnesty clause, remember:  if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck, no matter what anyone tries to tell you!

Posted in Immigration Reform, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Southern Baptists & the Homosexual Culture

With the New York State Senate on the verge of taking up an historic bill which would legalize same-sex marriage, the cultural battle over this hot-button issue is not going away anytime soon.  In fact, the push for gay rights will continue to pick up steam, plowing over everything that stands in its way.

Within the next three to five years, our nation will undergo a sea change in its perception of gay rights, including the rights of gay couples to marry.  President Obama, whose position on gay marriage continues to evolve, will finally make public what most everyone thinks he already believes, namely that gay Americans should be afforded the same rights to marriage as heterosexuals.  Even as he was raising millions in campaign cash from the New York Gay, Lesbian, and Bi-Sexual community on Thursday night, the President came as close to openly supporting gay marriage as he has to date:

“I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” the president said at a Manhattan fundraiser, his first geared specifically to the gay community.

With some recent polls now showing a majority of Americans favoring gay marriage, homosexuality and the gay lifestyle will be normalized within our culture.  To speak negatively against gay rights will be the equivalent of using racist language.  Already we are seeing the speech police “re-educating” comedians who would dare to use language in their acts deemed unacceptable by gay rights groups.  The irony of a comedian having to apologize for his comedy is priceless.  For the record, I think what Tracy Morgan said was crude and offensive.  I don’t care for his brand of comedy at all.  However, his public apology tour illustrates the slippery slope we are on when it comes to speaking out against gay rights issues.

Apologies for how some homosexuals have apparently been treated are not limited to the world of comedy.  In perhaps one of the most interesting developments in the religious world, Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s leading voices, spoke of the need for Evangelicals and Southern Baptists to repent (i.e., apologize for) their homophobia.  Questioned by messenger and blogger Peter Lumpkins about Mohler’s recent statements on homosexuality, Dr. Mohler gave a passionate answer which seemed to hold sway within the Convention Hall.  Mohler said:

We are not a gospel people unless we understand that only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality. The gospel is what we stand for and the gospel is the only remedy for sin. And we have also exhibited a certain form of homophobia of which we must, absolutely must, in gospel terms repent precisely because we believe in all the Scripture teaches about homosexuality and all that the Scripture teaches about sin. We must recognize that our job isn’t done until our churches look exactly like the church described in 1 Corinthians 6 where those very sins are articulated. And then it says “but such were some of you, but you were washed.” Our job is not done until sitting in the pews among us are those of whom it is said – I once was that. As we say – I once was something else. We are sinners saved by grace. Until there are those who are trapped in that sin sitting among us, we know we’ve got a gospel job to do. (link to the full video exchange here)

Because of sickness, I was unable to attend any session of the Convention in person, even though I traveled to Phoenix to do just that.  Like most Southern Baptists, I have the video available to watch.  After watching both the question by Peter Lumpkins and the response by Dr. Mohler and reading the blogosphere’s take on the matter (here), it appears that we are having a Strother Martin “failure to communicate” moment in SBC life.  Or perhaps better stated, a failure to hear what the other side is saying.

Many, as evidenced by the feedback on SBCVoices, a popular blog for opinion and analysis among Southern Baptists, appear to be favoring Dr. Mohler’s opinion and rejecting Peter Lumpkins’ position by a 9 to 1 majority.  I’m not sure that the balance of opinion on this issue is related more to the substance of the positions taken or to the personalities who have chosen to take said positions.

I think that Mr. Lumpkins had every right to ask a question of an entity President from the floor of the Convention.  Regardless of how he asked the question or whether he knew the answer to the question before it was asked (not necessarily a bad thing) or how he was dressed when he asked the question, I’m glad that we still have a Convention where anyone — famous blogger or unknown pastor — can be afforded the opportunity to ask leaders pointed questions.  When our leaders start ducking questions from grassroots Southern Baptists, we will begin to see a further erosion of trust among the people of the SBC.

All in all, there is not much to argue with Dr. Mohler about regarding his answer.  In his customary well-articulated and passionate way, Dr. Mohler answered the question in a way that satisfied most in the crowd that day.  I know that Dr. Mohler knows that words have meaning and that using certain words sends a message — either directly or indirectly.  The one area where I would disagree with Dr. Mohler is in his use of the word “homophobia” and his contention that:

“we have also exhibited a certain form of homophobia of which we must, absolutely must, in gospel terms repent precisely because we believe in all the Scripture teaches about homosexuality and all that the Scripture teaches about sin.”

Homophobia, which is a political term of the left, has been used as a bludgeon against those who oppose the gay rights agenda, most particularly conservative Christians who speak out against homosexuality.  I wish that Dr. Mohler would have used other language to convey the truth behind what he was getting at.  He could have said that Evangelicals and Southern Baptists have not treated their fellow human beings — particularly gays, lesbians, and bisexuals — in a way that honors them as a person made in the image of God. 

However, regardless of how many folks try to defend Dr. Mohler at this point, I simply choose to disagree with his use of the word “homophobia.”  I believe it has muddied the waters and will continue to be a source of contention in the days to come.  Why?  Because now we will have to define what is and what is not considered a “form of homophobia.”  Who gets to make that determination?  Is it homophobic to oppose gay marriage?  I suppose it depends on who you ask.  Can a Southern Baptist church in New Mexico urge their members to email and contact their state legislators to voice their opposition to civil unions without it being seen as a form of homophobia?  Is it a form of homophobia for a Christian wedding photographer to refuse to photograph a gay wedding?

In the end, no one else can make those determinations for me or my church.  Even one of the most well-respected theologians of our time cannot make that determination for you or your church.  How Southern Baptists navigate the treacherous waters of the gay rights movement in the days to come will be interesting to watch.  There will be many voices clamoring to steer the ship on this issue.  Whose voice will have the most sway?  We shall see.

Posted in Homosexual Agenda, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Blogging From Phoenix: ONLY If the Lord Wills!

This will be my last post before I head to Phoenix on Sunday for the start of the SBC Aspire Pastor’s Conference and the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I’ll be posting regular updates from Phoenix beginning Monday morning.  I’m not sure that I’ll be “live blogging” per se, but check back often throughout next week for my take on the goings-on at this year’s event.  With the number of messengers making the trip to Phoenix maybe one of the lowest on record, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a dull Convention. (SBC Phoenix: Grassroots Voices Speak Out!)

Famous last words before heading to Phoenix!  Coming off the highest weekly readership to date for From Law to Grace, I just knew that the SBC Pastor’s Conference and Annual Meeting would be a big week for blog posts and an even bigger week for blog views.  Instead, it turned into a big bust!  At least as far as blogging is concerned.

While I had my plans all figured out for what I thought would transpire in Phoenix, I failed to remember that my plans — however well-intentioned — will never trump God’s plans.  Such was the hard and humbling lesson of Phoenix 2011.  I was vividly reminded of the Words of the Book of James:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  (James 4:13-16, ESV)

And, just how did God choose to remind me of this Biblical truth?  Through one of the worst — if not worst — stomach bugs that I have ever had in my entire life.  About 2 hours into the seven hour drive to Phoenix on Sunday, I began to think that the Wendy’s Double Burger was not agreeing with me.  Needless to say, I’m not sure that I will ever look at a Wendy’s Burger in quite the same way after this experience.

Not wanting to miss the action, I somehow made myself get out of bed on Monday morning and drive down to the Convention Center.  I made my way to the Registration Booth and become official (now New Mexico can count me, even if I wasn’t in attendance).  After listening to sermons by Darrin Patrick and Bartholomew Orr (both solid), my body told me it was time to go back to the hotel.  Maybe some rest would cure whatever was ailing me.

After a fitful Monday afternoon, I got up and headed to the Hyatt Regency for a meeting of the SBC Conservatives (more on that next week).  But, at the 6:30 p.m. mark, my Roberto Duran finally took over and said, “no mas!”  With that, I was done for the rest of the week.  As I write this on Thursday evening, I can say that this has been one of the longest weeks of my life.  But, in the midst of it all, God is still good, all the time!

I do not know why the Lord’s will for my life while in Phoenix was different from mine.  Was I disappointed to not make any of the Convention and only a brief period of the Pastor’s Conference?  Yes.  But, I know there is a reason that I have had the week that I have had.  Maybe it was just to remind me that my life is in God’s hands and His purposes will prevail.  Perhaps this week was about remembering what is truly precious in life — faith, family, and health — while recognizing that blogging and attending SBC meetings are not eternal.

As a Pastor, I often confront folks whose lives are not going according to their plans.  A devastating loss, a dreaded disease, a failed marriage, a financial disaster.  I wish that I had all the answers to the why questions, but, just like with my sickness in Phoenix, I do not.  I do know this though — that if it’s the Lord’s will for your life or my life, then it is for our ultimate best.  It may not seem like it now, but I believe God’s Word is true:

And we know that for those who love God ALL things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Phoenix didn’t turn out like I had planned.  That’s okay.  In the end, I’ll take God’s will for my life because His will is always perfect and mine rarely is.  A good lesson learned, although not how I would have liked to have learned it.  In any event, I am finally blogging from Phoenix.  And, Lord willing, I’ll blog again starting next week.  Until then, always know that God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good!

Posted in Ministry, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

SBC Phoenix: Grassroots Voices Speak Out!

This will be my last post before I head to Phoenix on Sunday for the start of the SBC Aspire Pastor’s Conference and the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.  I’ll be posting regular updates from Phoenix beginning Monday morning.  I’m not sure that I’ll be “live blogging” per se, but check back often throughout next week for my take on the goings-on at this year’s event.  With the number of messengers making the trip to Phoenix maybe one of the lowest on record, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a dull Convention.

Unless you happen to read The Pathway, Missouri Baptists’ State newspaper, you would have no idea that a motion will be made at the Convention which calls for revisiting the recommendations of the GCR.  The motion, which already has the support of at least 100 grassroots conservative Southern Baptists (many of whom are current and former leaders within the Convention) states:

“that the Convention create a special committee to be called the Unity Committee, to review, evaluate and make recommendations about perceptions and realities about the impact and implementation of the GCR Task Force Report during the past year by SBC entities, state conventions and related organizations and networks, that the committee bring a report and recommendations to the 2012 SBC annual meeting; and that the Committee be comprised of 21 members to be appointed by the President, fully representational of Southern Baptists and that the minutes, records and proceedings from the Committee’s meetings and work be open to the Southern Baptist public and available to all Southern Baptists no later than 12 months after it has given its report to the SBC.” (full Pathway article here)

The special committee, to be called the “Unity Committee,” would be tasked with reviewing the “impact and implementation” of the GCR recommendations since Orlando.  The name of this committee encapsulates the division that the GCR has caused in the last year.  The original GCR Task Force — designed to bring recommendations that would help Southern Baptists more effectively carry out the Great Commission — has become a divisive wedge that continues to cause both short-term and long-term harm to our Convention.

Grassroots Southern Baptists, who were the backbone of the Conservative Resurgence, are beginning to make their voices heard about the radical redefinition and reorganization that has taken place within the last year (here, here, and here).  That the records of the Unity Committee would be available for all Southern Baptists to read is a refreshing step toward true transparency within the Convention, something that was woefully lacking in the GCRTF process (here and here).

Of course, there is no guarantee that the motion will survive the Committee on Order of Business, which has the authority either to schedule the motion for debate and a vote on the floor of the Convention or to effectively kill it in committee by recommending that the Presiding Officer (Bryant Wright) rule the motion out-of-order.  There are still ways to get the motion to the floor (i.e., messengers vote to overrule the ruling of the Chair), but that is certainly not the easiest path.

On Tuesday, I wrote:

The temperatures maybe high in Phoenix next week, but those high temperatures will be mainly confined to outside the Convention Center.  Inside, among the messengers of the SBC, the temperatures will be rather mild.

This is yet the second time that I have had to revise my forecast.  Little did I know it at the time, but both of my revisions are related.  Grassroots conservative Southern Baptists will begin to make their voices heard in Phoenix.  Since Orlando, the disconnect between rank-and-file Southern Baptists and the establishment elites within the Convention has continued to grow.  Perhaps nothing better illustrates what divides cooperating conservative SBs from top-down SBs than the nomination of Dr. Fred Luter for 1st Vice President of the Convention. 

BP recently reported on Dr. Luter’s church, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans:

In 2010, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church reported primary worship attendance of 4,000; undesignated receipts of $4,407,217; Cooperative Program contributions of $261,798; a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions gift of $35; an Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions gift of $1,323; and $479,540 in total missions expenditures.

In a Convention of churches who have been known for cooperating together for missions and ministries, a pastor whose church reportedly gave only $35 to Lottie Moon and $1,323 to Annie Armstrong is considered by the President of Southeastern Seminary to be worthy to lead all Southern Baptists in the coming days:

“I can’t imagine anyone more qualified and more worthy to be nominated to this position than Fred.”

Maybe Dr. Akin is right.  But, if he is, then the slow death of the cooperative program and of the Southern Baptist Convention will not be as slow as some had imagined!  Now, it’s on to Phoenix!

Posted in Great Commission Resurgence, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Race, Politics & the SBC in Phoenix

Only five days before the Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Phoenix, temperature are rising.  Although I previously wrote that the weather inside the Convention Hall would probably be mild, I am beginning to think I may have to revise my forecast for inside where the 5,000 to 7,000 (estimated) messengers will gather.

Why?  Because of recent comments about a candidate for 1st Vice President.  Bryant Wright will most likely run unopposed for a customary second term as President of the SBC.  However, in Tuesday’s post, Countdown to SBC Phoenix:  What to Expect, I wrote:

“While I do no expect anyone else to run against Wright, the offices of 1st and 2nd Vice President, both largely ceremonial, could provide some drama in an otherwise scripted affair.”

No sooner had I written those words than both Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, both took to Twitter (in an appropriate use of this social networking medium) to trumpet the candidacy of Dr. Fred Luter for 1st Vice President in Phoenix.

Apparently Dr. Luter’s candidacy for this largely ceremonial office will be a precursor to a potential run for President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012.  Dr. Luter is the popular Senior Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, a SBC megachurch in New Orleans.  Oh, and coincidentally or providentially (depending on your theology), next year’s Annual Meeting of the SBC will be held in New Orleans.  Sounds like favorable conditions for Dr. Luter to be elected to the SBC’s highest office.

I do not know Fred Luter, but I have heard him preach.  From everything that I have heard or read about Dr. Luter, he seems to be a fine man of God who is being used by the Lord to reach his community with the Gospel of Christ.  In that regard, he is really no different than Bryant Wright or Johnny Hunt or Frank Page or Bobby Welch, the current and preceding three Presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, there seems to be one thing that distinguishes Dr. Luter from the others — he is African-American.  While the SBC has made great strides in recent years in reaching out to ethnic minorities, the nation’s largest Protestant body continues to be comprised of mostly Anglo congregations.  Some leaders within the SBC seem to think that the election of Dr. Luter to be President of the Convention next year in New Orleans would be a positive step for Southern Baptists to take. 

In several Tweets over the last few days, both Dr. Danny Akin and Dr. Russell Moore, have shared their enthusiasm for a Luter candidacy, both this year in Phoenix and next year in New Orleans:  

@drmooreRussell Moore

And we should elect him pres next yr in New Orleans! RT@DannyAkin: honored to nominate Fred Luter 4 SBC 1st V.P. of SBC nxt wk in Phoenix.

The Associated Baptist Press, reporting on this development, went so far as to title their story, “Professor says Southern Baptists should elect black president.”  While Dr. Moore did not actually use those words in his earlier Tweet, a subsequent Tweet by Dr. Moore seems to accept ABP’s characterization:

@drmoore Russell Moore
ABP: Moore says Southern Baptists should elect black president

Because of the Tweets and the ABP article, I am somewhat confused by Dr. Akin’s and Dr. Moore’s comments surrounding a potential Fred Luter candidacy for President of the SBC next year in New Orleans.  Are they supporting Fred Luter, who is African-American, for President of the SBC or are they supporting a Luter candidacy because they believe that “the time has come” for an African-American to be elected President of the SBC?  There is a difference between the two.

The first reason is understandable.  The second is problematic.  Call me idealistic (and conservative), but I thought that we should be electing the best people for positions of leadership — both in the SBC and in the nation — irrespective of their race or ethnicity.  If Dr. Luter is the best person to serve Southern Baptists as their President, then his race should not be used — either positively or negatively — in his candidacy.  This year or next.  Why?  Because, as we have seen in our nation’s election of Barack Obama as President, once race is injected into a campaign, then any questioning of a candidate’s policies and beliefs will be viewed through the lens of race and racial politics.

It is bad enough that many view opposition to President Obama as racist.  It would be tragic for the Southern Baptist Convention to begin to use race — however well intended — in our advocacy of certain candidates for elected office.  Once we start down that road, there maybe no turning back.

It is with some hesitancy that I even publish this article.  When talking about race and politics — even within the SBC — there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.  Do Southern Baptists have an imperfect and sinful past regarding race?  Yes.  Does racism still rear its ugly head throughout the SBC?  Just like in our culture at large.  Do Southern Baptist churches still struggle with issues of race and inclusion?  All the time.

There are some who believe that the SBC still has a huge race problem.  That may or may not be the case, but just because someone believes a race problem exists does not mean that everyone else must unquestionably agree with either the stated proposition or the proposed solutions to said problem. 

Some may believe that Dr. Luter’s election as 1st VP in Phoenix and President in New Orleans will go a long way toward solving the race problems they see within the Convention.  They may, in fact, be right.  Who am I to say?  But, let me state unequivocally that I will not base my vote for any candidate for office — either in the SBC or in our nation — on that candidate’s race or ethnicity.  I will vote for a candidate based upon his stated policies, vision, and, where applicable, voting record.  After all, isn’t that what conservatives are supposed to do?

Posted in Christianity, Politics, Religion, Southern Baptist Convention | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments