Ben Carson, who is announcing his presidential campaign next week, was slated to speak at a Southern Baptist Pastor’s Conference in Columbus, OH in June. The organizer of the conference canceled Carson’s appearance after a group of pastors criticized the invitation for theological and political reasons.
Pastor Willy Rice, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater, FL, is the organizer of the event and he said that over the last several days “it has become clear to both Dr. Carson’s team and to me that Dr. Carson’s appearance could create an unnecessary distraction for us both.”
A group called Baptist21 offered several reasons, including theological reasons, why they were opposed to Carson speaking:
Dr. Carson is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Their official theology denies the doctrine of Hell in favor of annihilation, denies the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and believes that those who worship on Sunday will bear the “mark of the beast.”
Also, on Easter, Dr. Carson wrote on his Facebook wall, “Let us also remember that Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in God, and while there are ideological differences in who Jesus was, we should find peace in the fact that we are all God’s children.” Certainly, we do not all worship the same God – we worship the Trinity whom Muslims and Jews would deny. And, the idea that we are all God’s children is at best the type of liberalism the Conservative Resurgence sought to address, and at worst, it is universalism.
They were also concerned that this continued a pattern that showed the Southern Baptist Convention is wed to the Republican Party.
There continue to be perceptions in our culture that the SBC is in bed with the Republican Party, and actions such as having Dr. Carson speak at the SBC Pastor’s Conference only prove that perception correct. These perceptions continue to hamper our witness in an increasingly purple America, where missional efforts are often misunderstood as Southern Baptists asking people to become more politically conservative. While the convention hall room will be full of red politically, many of our congregations back home are increasingly politically diverse, and these one-sided affiliations can be difficult to explain, considering many already believe that Southern Baptists view God as a Republican. In fact, we have more in common with a born again Christian who is a registered Democrat, than we do with a universalist Seventh-Day Adventist who is a conservative. Perhaps Southern Baptists need to be reminded of what unites us together.
I can empathize with their concerns, especially since this is a conference for pastors. I also appreciate the desire to be gospel-centered. I would caution these pastors that being gospel-centered does not mean shying away from moral issues that some deem conservative. Obviously we are called to be Christ-followers first and foremost and to side with biblical truth even if it goes against prevailing culture. That said our culture will never be won through politics, but through hearts and minds being transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Southern Baptists are not very influential in Iowa and New Hampshire, but I do have to wonder if this bit of news will make an impact as the primary calendar approaches South Carolina and Florida. Carson is a long-shot anyway, this news makes it even more difficult in states where he could make some inroads.