President Barack Obama was criticized and presidential candidate Donald Trump was subtly promoted during the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone, devoted much of his time for GuideStone’s report to attacking Obamacare, which he labeled “a total disaster.” GuideStone sued the administration, challenging the contraception mandate violates their religious liberty.
Hawkins claimed their case “had favor with the Supreme Court,” even though the justices instead urged lower courts to find a compromise position that keeps the Obamacare mandate in place.
He also claimed the administration wanted them to give contraception “free and pay for it,” even though the mandate instead places those burdens on insurance companies.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), echoed those criticisms during the ERLC report. Moore specifically praised Hawkins and GuideStone for its lawsuit.
Two SBC resolutions – on “biblical sexuality and the freedom of conscience” and women in the draft – criticized “the Obama administration,” though neither used the title ‘president’ to refer to Obama.
Outgoing SBC President Ronnie Floyd moderated a panel discussion on “pastors and the church in American politics today.”
Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and former SBC president, talked about his experience last fall holding a forum at his church for Republican presidential candidates.
Graham lamented that tens of millions of evangelicals did not vote in 2012, implying he wished they had produced a different result. He then called the 2016 election “the most important election in history.”
“This is about finding the leader we need for America,” he said. “We need leadership in this country … and turn the tide in America in our generation.”
After Floyd asked Graham how pastors should respond given people who are “very upset about the present choices” for president, Graham jokingly thanked Floyd for “the elephant-in-the-room question – or the donkey in the room.”
Graham insisted that Christians “must not abdicate our responsibility” to vote and “can’t sit this one out” because “the stakes are too high.”
Graham then clearly aligned himself with the Republican Party, thus implying a vote for Trump over Clinton.
He listed “three primary issues” he believes should direct how Christians vote. He urged support for whichever candidate would most likely bring conservative justices for the Supreme Court, back legislation to stop abortions and support “religious liberty” for opponents of same-sex marriage.
One influential “elephant” did show up in the room. A prayer session the night before the election panel including remarks from U.S. Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma who previously served as a Southern Baptist youth pastor.
Lankford centered his remarks on a biblical metaphor that could take on new meaning in the current political campaign.
Reading from Nehemiah 1, Lankford focused on the effort to build the walls – just as one of the two presidential candidates promises to do. Lankford previously pledged to support Trump for president.
Others are employing the Nehemiah walls passage in this campaign. Evangelist Franklin Graham, who previously praised Trump and embraced debunked “birther” claims about Obama, uses the passage as the main text for his 50-state “Decision America 2016” tour currently ongoing.
During Floyd’s politics panel, another Baptist also used the passage that aligns with the issue for which Trump remains most known.
“Just like Nehemiah had to sit down and weep before he could rebuild the wall, I think that maybe we’re finally at that place,” said Hance Dilbeck, president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
While many Baptist and other evangelical leaders move toward supporting a thrice-married casino mogul known for vulgarity and racism, Moore remains outspoken in his opposition.
Moore continues to criticize Trump and Christians who publicly endorse him. Floyd appeared to take aim at such criticisms.
“While pastors and Christian leaders may be diverse in their opinion, each of us do not need to judge one another because of this,” Floyd said during the politics panel.
“Esther did not attack Haman and send out a tweet or get on Facebook and go on a rant like a child,” Floyd said in his presidential sermon. “Or get on a website and comment about how bad Haman was. Nor did she write about how evil he was.”
Floyd in his presidential remarks also attacked Obama and claimed “our nation is morally sliding toward Gomorrah.”
“How many more decades can American society survive when the raveling is taking place at our very core,” he added. “America is in a crisis. The stakes are high.”
On Tuesday – just days after closing the SBC annual meeting – Floyd and Jack Graham will join a meeting between evangelical leaders and Trump.
Although Floyd insisted he is just going to listen, he and Graham served as official inviters – not just attendees – for the meeting being led by individuals working to help Trump gain evangelical support.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.