When I read on EthicsDaily.com a few days ago that the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina had “defunded” the Baptist Center for Ethics, I was reminded once again of how little Southern Baptists really understand ethics.
When a Southern Baptist pastor like Wiley Drake in California openly called for God to bring about President Obama’s death, we heard not a peep from the Southern Baptist Convention leadership or the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. To be sure, Drake has slightly eased off – President Obama should be kept alive until he can be tried for treason and then he would be executed, Drake now says – but he was never censured for what he had said.
Yet the very same SBC expelled a historic church in Fort Worth, Texas, because it had some gay members. The Georgia Baptist Convention did likewise with a church in suburban Atlanta that had the audacity to have a woman as its senior pastor. Someone will have to explain to me how the latter can be seen as ethical actions by the denomination, but it is not a matter of ethical concern that one of its prominent pastors called for the death of the president of the United States. Remember, Drake is no marginal creature; he was a second vice president of the SBC and a candidate for even higher office this past year.
Now we have prominent Southern Baptist figures falling all over themselves to get their names attached to the signatory list of the “Manhattan Declaration,” released this past Friday. The original list includes nearly everybody who is anybody on the Christian right, as well as people who ought to know better, such as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and the presidents of Gordon-Conwell and Asbury Theological Seminaries and Wheaton College.
Goodness knows how many more are among the 30,000 people who have signed it since then. As one reads through this seven-page, single-spaced smokescreen document (as I did), one finds out that the great social issues of the day are abortion, homosexual marriage and a truncated definition of religious liberty that allows the Christian Right to do whatever it wishes in the name of freedom.
Not mentioned in this “call of Christian conscience” is anything about climate change and global warming; adequate health care for all Americans; just immigration policies; combating poverty and hunger here and abroad; equal rights for women and racial minorities; or the ongoing specter of war.
And now we see bumper stickers sprouting up all over the country with the phrase “Psalm 109:8.” What is meant by this reference to a wicked ruler is, of course, President Obama. The key words in the passage, “May his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow,” are ominous, to say the least. We have Christians imploring God to bring about the death of our president because they don’t like his political beliefs, his race, his policies or what have you, and yet we hear not a word of rebuke from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Friends, we are living in a dangerous age. Ethics have been discarded for the sake of political ideology and we are much the worse for this. As a Baptist layperson, I plead for the recovery of the kind of Christian ethics that address the real problems facing our nation. Those who do not want change are trying to divert people’s attention to other matters of lesser significance, and some are even calling for the violent removal of President Obama from office.
I have never seen such a dangerous situation in my lifetime, and the tragedy is that so many Christians are oblivious to what is going on. We must stand up and say a resounding “no” to the politics of hate and division. If Christians do not take the lead in solving our national problems but simply remain an integral part of the problem, then God have mercy on us.
Richard V. Pierard is professor of history emeritus at Indiana State University. He lives in Hendersonville, N.C.