Thursday, June 14, 2018

Vice President Pence Isn't Pharaoh


I'll be Frank, you be Surely (Shirley?). I did not care for Vice President Mike Pence's speech at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas yesterday. When he came to the platform, I stood to applaud, and likewise when he stepped down. It's proper etiquette -- he's the Vice President of the United States. But his speech didn't belong at the SBC annual meeting.

Oh, the speech had its high points. He quoted from the Bible a few times and shared his faith in Christ. He thanked the convention for their prayers and hard work. He spoke about the massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX last November and referenced their pastor who was in attendance. We stood and applauded Pastor Pomeroy. That was a touching moment.

Otherwise, Vice President Pence's address was a Stump-for-Trump speech: President Trump is the greatest this and no other president in history has ever done that. Yes, we even heard that he wants to "Make America Great Again." Thousands in the convention hall stood and applauded with each political point as though we were attending a rally. The speech was as political as they get and, quite frankly (I said I'd be Frank), it was embarrassing for the convention.

Welcoming Vice President Pence to address the convention was poor judgment. As I understand it, the Vice President was the one who reached out to the convention, but whoever accepted the invitation should have politely turned him down. Instead, it looks like we got played.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a politician addressing a gathering of Christians. As Thomas Kidd pointed out, the SBC has a long history of politicians speaking at the convention, some good and some bad. Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke to the convention on Monday. Senator Ben Sasse addressed the Gospel Coalition's biennial meeting last year. But the SBC should have been more discerning before they let a representative of Trump's administration speak to the convention.

"There will always be questions of wisdom at play in decisions like these," said Dr. Jonathan Leeman in an article for TGC (that has since been published in the Washington Post). However, he went on to say, "But the criteria I'm offering are, how does it comport with the biblical pattern of prophetic speech; and how will it affect the mission, witness, and unity of the church?"

Though Dr. Leeman believes matters such as welcoming a politician to address the saints of Christ requires discernment, he also argued that the biblical criteria is clear-cut. This is how he started his article:
"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?"
It's a rhetorical question, as though there isn't such an instance. Actually, there is. In fact, there are a few.

Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to know the fear of God and wrote the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel. Neco, Pharaoh of Egypt, addressed Josiah, king of Judah, with words "from the mouth of God" (2 Chronicles 35:22). Cyrus, King of Persia, told the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild it (Ezra 1:3). And let's not forget that in the midst of Israel's spiritual darkness, it was magi from the east following a star who came to worship the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2).

Now, I agree with Dr. Leeman that the pattern of address in the Bible is typically the opposite: the man of God addressed the pagan king rather than the pagan king giving a message to God's people. Continuing his example, he said, "Moses challenges Pharaoh. Daniel confronts Nebuchadnezzar. John the Baptist Calls out Herod. And Paul appeals to Caesar."

But here's the problem. In using this analogy, Dr. Leeman is making it appear as if the Southern Baptist Convention is Moses, Daniel, John the Baptist, and Paul, while Vice President Pence is Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, or Caesar. A thousand times no. As I've been wont to say to my own congregation, "You're not David, and your problems aren't Goliath."

Vice President Pence is a brother in the Lord. He is a Christian. I've been told he's even attended Dr. Leeman's church in Washington D.C. It is ungracious to compare him to a murderous oppressor like Pharaoh or Herod. We are not under the President's captivity. We are set free in Christ. By the Vice President's own confession, we have every reason to believe he is set free in Christ as well.

Within Christianity, both sides of the political aisle practice this kind of eisegesis -- imposing one's own will onto the text of Scripture. The people who love President Trump compare him to David, Solomon, or Samson, while the people who hate him think he's, well, Pharaoh, Herod, or Nero. President Trump is an unrepentant sinner by his own admission. I believe he's a judgment on this depraved land, and I pray he repents. But he's not Nero.

Dr. Leeman cautioned against the temptation to desire political access. That's good advice. He agrees it's a matter of wisdom as to whether or not a politician should, say, speak to the Southern Baptist Convention. I believe then that it would have been more proper for Dr. Leeman to appeal to the wisdom books of Scripture rather than making a comparison to oppression under pagan kings.

Proverbs 23:1-3 says, "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food." Proverbs 29:4-5 says, "By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet."

Or how about the always popular Proverbs 29:18 which says, "Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." We would have done well to pay more attention to the Bible during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. We are blessed to have God's word. We don't need the blessing of a politician.

Edit: Immediately after the Vice President was the convention sermon (which was originally supposed to be given by Paige Patterson who dropped out due to the recent scandal). The morning ran long and it was already lunch time. Thousands got up and left the meeting hall after the Vice President spoke. Maybe they were hungry, and maybe they were protesting something related to Patterson. But it made it look like the SBC was more interested in a politician's speech than biblical preaching.

Yes, we were played at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention. But not just by the Trump administration. Dave Ramsey was given the stage twice, boasted in himself, favorably quoted a heretic, gave a horrible illustration which he claimed was biblical, took Scripture out of context, and stumped for his business. Our lack of biblical vitality was taken advantage of in a lot of ways.

Let us be wise to the ways of the world and the ways of the Word. Be convicted and follow the wisdom of our great King, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has shared His mind with us. It's in the Bible. Quite frankly, the SBC should pay more attention to it.