Southern Baptist Reactions to the Guidepost Report

I’ve noticed basically three kinds of reaction to the Guidepost report:

(1) Shocking, but not surprising—this is what happens in overtly patriarchal subcultures;
(2) This is horrific—we need to rethink our leadership culture and organizational structure;
(3) The Guidepost report didn’t have Bible verses; we need more emphasis on male authority.

My sense is that the folks in the first category are outliers in the SBC—mostly advocates, and some academics who don’t advertise their views for fear of retribution from an SBC-affiliated employer.

The folks in category (2) are those in the SBC who oppose female ordination (perhaps reluctantly), because they sincerely believe that the Bible prohibits women from serving as pastors. But those in category (2) recognize that scripture provides no clear prohibition on women serving in leadership roles that give them authority over men (e.g., police, corporate executive, school administrator) or women teaching within the church. Importantly, the folks in category (2) are open to examining the fruit of various institutional arrangements and, when necessary, experimenting with alternative arrangements that conform to the clear teaching of scripture as they understand it. So if there’s no clear biblical prohibition on women serving in (non-pastoral) leadership, and the fruit of overwhelmingly male-dominated leadership is decades of abuse and cover-ups, the folks in category (2) are open to inviting women into the halls of power and influence.

The folks in category (3) are misogynists. Many of them sincerely believe they’re not misogynists—either because they don’t understand what misogyny is, or they’re completely in the dark about their own motives for opposing female leadership. But they’re misogynists nonetheless. This isn’t to say that all people in category (3) are of apiece: Mohler is no Patterson. The latter has always worn his contempt for women on his sleeve, while the former supported female ordination in the ’80s and changed his view just in time to keep pace with the SBC’s political winds. (Opportunistic misogyny is misogyny nonetheless.)

I have two reasons for believing those in category (3) to be misogynists. The first is that they act like misogynists, and their excuse for acting like misogynists doesn’t withstand mild scrutiny. They claim that their opposition to female leadership is based in scrupulous adherence to the Biblical qualifications for church leadership: indeed, the mere suggestion of a woman in a pulpit on a Sunday occasions a deluge of 20,000 word essays on the clear, simple, obvious meaning of their life verse, namely 1 Timothy 2:12. And yet, the revelation that serial predation and cover ups have plagued SBC churches, pulpits and leadership for decades is met with casual speculation about progressives trying to take over the Convention. In short, they don’t seem to care all that much about the biblical qualifications for leadership as such—if they did, the specter of predators in the pastorate would be at least as offensive to them as the prospect of women addressing a Baptist congregation. I’m forced to conclude that their motivation is contempt for women, not scripture. It’s the only way to explain their behavior.

My second reason for calling them misogynists is that their arguments against egalitarianism are tendered in bad faith. To be clear: I’m not asserting that their commitment to male headship is held insincerely. I grant that they honestly believe that scripture commends male leadership. The point is that the way that they argue with people who disagree with them suggests contempt for the very notion that just maybe, possibly, their views on the subordination of women might be wrong. The thought is unthinkable to them. And I just don’t see how one arrives at that attitude absent some deeply held, perhaps even unconscious commitment to the inferiority of women. (I also happen to think that this attitude is deeply anti-Christian, but that’s a topic for another time, or perhaps a book chapter.)

Importantly, the folks in category (3) are currently waging a campaign to manipulate those in category (2) into doubling down on a commitment to male authority by pretending that anything less than full on patriarchy constitutes theological liberalism. This is just false. That’s never been a point of widespread agreement among Baptists, or even Southern Baptists, which is why the language of the BFM2K is what it is. The distinction between office and function of a pastor was completely intentional. It wasn’t a point of confusion as some in category (3) are now suggesting. If they were to go about their project honestly, they would stand on the floor of the Convention this year and argue that the BFM2K should be amended to reflect their views on the role of women. But they won’t do that, because they know that such an effort would be doomed to fail.

My sense is that the majority of folks in the SBC are in category (2). The misogynists are trying to drag them into category (3), and I hope they fail. Either way, they won’t win—because if that project succeeds, I doubt that the SBC will still exist 20 years from now.

Evangelicalism’s Intellectual Ghettoization

Do you find it at all odd that on an almost weekly basis, some pastor, seminarian or graduate student publishes an allegedly devastating refutation of a book written by a professional academic in the prime of her career?

Suppose I told you that one day, as a college student in Chapel Hill, I was shooting hoops down at Woollen Gym, when in walks Vince Carter—a proud UNC alumnus then in the prime of an illustrious NBA career. What if I told you that I challenged him to a game of 1-on-1? And what if I told you that I not only defeated peak Vince Carter in that game of 1-on-1, but did so in humiliating fashion—exposing every weakness in his game. (I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised by this outcome, though not entirely shocked. After all, I did start at shooting guard in the state finals as a senior in high school.)

If I asked you to believe that anything remotely like that sequence of events occurred in the actual world, you’d say I was delusional—delusional for believing it myself, and delusional for expecting anyone else to believe it. Yet something roughly like that scenario plays out in the minds of some evangelicals on a regular basis: a full professor—who’s devoted decades of her life to crafting arguments and sharpening her skills in highly competitive environments—writes a book based on her research. And a few months later, her entire research agenda is dispatched in a few thousand words authored by a celebrity pastor in the course of a weekend. That sounds completely delusional, does it not? And is it less delusional than imagining I dominated Vince Carter (or any other pro basketball player for that matter) in a game of 1-on-1? Marginally, perhaps. But if you think the two cases are radically different, then you likely have no idea what goes on in a university.

Here’s a quick primer: you don’t get tenure for crushing it at beer pong in the faculty lounge. And you don’t attain the rank of full professor by sinking years of effort into books in your area of specialization that are riddled with obvious errors. That’s just not how it works. (Plenty of seminary faculty know this, by the way. I probably don’t say this enough, but by a wide margin the majority of the seminary faculty I know are scholars who spend their time publishing legitimate research. But I digress.)

I have absolutely no interest in litigating the details of any particular example here. I genuinely don’t care whether some or other allegedly devastating critique happens to include a salient minor objection. That would be analogous to arguing over whether, in the course of *very much not* destroying a pro basketball player in a game of 1-on-1, I happened to get lucky and bank in a fadeaway skyhook from the perimeter. It’s irrelevant to the delusion at hand. What interests me is the delusion itself. Specifically, what conditions make it possible for otherwise reasonable people to believe that the carefully considered arguments of accomplished scholars are vulnerable to obvious and devastating objections raised by non-experts? (By this point I’ll be accused of elitism. So I ask: who’s the elitist? Who’s the one convinced that he has more penetrating insights on a subject than a scholar who’s spent decades studying and contributing original scholarship on that subject? Who does he think *he* is?)

Here’s a theory of how this delusion reproduces itself. One of the more pernicious effects of evangelicalism’s intellectual ghettoization has been the emergence of gatekeeping media within evangelicalism that mimic those outside evangelicalism. Most laypeople understand, e.g., that the gold standard for research is a genre of academic literature known as peer-reviewed journals. So if evangelicals want their scholarship to be taken seriously, they need to publish in peer-reviewed journals. But there’s a problem. No reputable journal will publish an argument, e.g., that commends “biblical patriarchy” or young earth creationism. So if evangelicals want their agenda to be taken seriously, they need to create their own peer-reviewed journals. Thus we see “peer-reviewed” journals that deal entirely with issues of concern to ultra-conservative evangelicals, with editorial boards whose members received their training from one of a handful of seminaries or from a university located some country where they’ve never lived. And since these journals only exist as a means of churning out “peer-reviewed” literature that legitimizes some agenda, such journals invariably serve to promote the pet doctrines of their founders rather than advancing or preserving knowledge of truth. All that really matters is that the journal has a process for submitting and reviewing papers that mimics the peer-review process of legitimate academic journals. So technically the author doesn’t know the identity of the reviewer. But the author knows that regardless of who reviews their paper, the reviewer will be someone who has certain sympathies vis-à-vis the journal’s basic agenda. And technically, reviewers don’t know the identity of the author whose paper they’re reviewing. But the reviewer knows that the author is a friend of the journal who’s interested in promoting the journal’s agenda.

That’s not really how a peer-reviewed journal is meant to operate—it’s more like a lightly anonymized editing service for people who share an ideological interest in promoting the same foregone conclusion. This is why we find such gut-wrenchingly bad arguments in publications like the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The quality of the reasoning is irrelevant. All that  matters is that the journal churns out “peer-reviewed” papers that support the journal’s ideology. Everyone wins. The journal creates a trail of “peer-reviewed” papers supporting “biblical patriarchy,” and everyone involved in the journal, from authors to editorial staff, can bulk up their CVs with empty calories. Very few of these folks spend any sustained time living and working in the presence of colleagues who hold a diverse range of views on, say, “biblical” patriarchy. Consequently, they never really learn how to argue with those who fundamentally disagree. This shows up in the way that they argue, and in the rapturous applause of otherwise sensible people upon the publication of a critical book review that offers 10 or 15 distinct objections, ranging in length from a couple short paragraphs to a single throwaway clause. (Who can forget: “First, it is likely that Junia is a man, not a woman. Second…”?) This tactic is called ‘Gish-galloping’—perfected by creation scientist Duane Gish, famous for overwhelming opponents with dozens of shallow arguments predicated on faulty implicit assumptions that no one has time to unpack. Crowds love it. Scholars find it unspeakably irritating. Should I explain why each objection ultimately fails? No. Why not? Well, for basically the same reasons I’m not going to give my two year old a detailed account of why it’s inappropriate to run around the living room with his My Size Potty seat on his face shouting “I’m a little blue astronaut.” I’ll talk to him about germs, but I’m not going to explain microbiology to a two year old. I’m not even going to try. It would be fruitless. Ultimately, I’m just going to tell him he can’t do that because “germs” and hope that someday he understands.

CEWEM: Marginalized Among Elites

When college-educated, white evangelical men complain that they are marginalized among “elites,” what are they actually complaining about? ¹

Every modern U.S. President has claimed a commitment to some form of Christianity. ² All but two have been Protestant. Every U.S. President has been male, and all but one has been white. Observe the composition of the U.S. Senate or the Supreme Court: majority white, majority male, majority Christian. The same holds for elites in industry and finance: 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white men; and a 2010 ARDA survey found that roughly 3 in 4 CEOs in the U.S. identify as Christian. The through line, from politics and law to industry and finance, is that white Christian men possess a preponderance of the wealth and power in our society. They aren’t marginalized by elites, because they *are* the elites.

So what’s the source of all these worries over marginalization? I think answer is located in traditional conservative evangelical anxieties about spheres of cultural production such as academia, journalism and art—hence the routine references to so-called “cultural elites.” White men are, of course, overrepresented (by a wide margin) in positions of power within, e.g., academia—though many of the faculty at elite universities have for several decades now been actively interrogating white patriarchal hegemony. For the men who regard patriarchy as an essential feature of Christianity—men who can’t distinguish Christianity from the white bourgeois fantasy engendered by government handouts in the middle of the 20th Century—this interrogation constitutes an attack on Christianity itself. So the essence of white evangelical anxiety over marginalization amounts to frustration over the fact that academics (et al.) don’t generally regard white evangelical defenses of patriarchy as intellectually serious. Why white evangelical patriarchists believe that they’re entitled to the deference of academics and other “cultural elites” is mysterious to me. Despite their expressed fondness for systems that allocate rewards on the basis of merit, white evangelicals who complain about marginalization in academia *don’t* want their ideas to be judged on the basis of merit: They think that they’re entitled to be taken seriously, even though their ideas are unserious. I have to wonder: what ideological commitments have bourgeois, white evangelical patriarchists added to the Gospel, by virtue of which they feel entitled to be taken seriously by intellectual and cultural elites? If they wish to be taken seriously, they should offer serious ideas.

¹ I have two instinctive reactions to complaints of marginalization from white evangelical males. First: “lol, wut.”

Second: “Supposing (for the sake of discussion) that you or your beliefs are in fact marginalized in elite spaces, why would you find this surprising? What Bible are you reading? What Jesus are you following?”

² You might object that “claiming a commitment to some form of Christianity” isn’t the same as “evangelical.” True, but why think that discrepancy matters? Perhaps the concern is that some politicians have feigned commitment to Christianity in order to court evangelical voters.

Since such politicians aren’t real Christians, let alone evangelical Christians, their status as political elites doesn’t assuage the worry that evangelicals are politically marginalized. But that worry contradicts the claim it’s meant to support: If the political climate is such that aspirants to public office feign commitment to Christianity in order to court evangelical voters, how politically marginalized could evangelicals possibly be? Alternatively, you might think that the parameters for “some form of Christianity” are so capacious that the prevalence of Christianity among political elites doesn’t ensure sensitivity to evangelical preferences in particular. But this concern has no basis in reality: For over 40 years, e.g., with the exception of President Obama, U.S. Presidents identifying as mainline Protestant (40, 41, 43, 45) have shown far more deference to policy preferences of evangelicals than have Presidents identifying as evangelical (39, 42).

Anti-CRT rhetoric: common confusions

From what I’ve seen, much evangelical anti-CRT rhetoric suffers from three basic confusions. Clarity on these points is prerequisite to fruitful dialogue.

The first confusion stems from different senses of the term ‘racism’—specifically, a conflation of ‘racism’ qua racist attitudes and ‘racism’ qua racist systems or institutions. The objection goes like this: “What do you mean America is systemically racist? I’m an American and *I’m* not racist—I hardly even know anyone who’s racist! So that can’t be right.” But this misses the point. Systemic or institutional racism isn’t about racist attitudes. (Past or present racist attitudes may be implicated in any number of ways. But that’s beside the point in discussions of systemic or institutional racism *as such*.)

A second confusion revolves around the difference between culpability and owing restitution, giving rise to concerns like: “What do you mean I owe restitution for past injustice?! I haven’t done anything wrong—I wasn’t even born yet!” But culpability and owing restitution aren’t identical or even inextricable. (Culpability is generally a sufficient condition for owing restitution of some kind; but it’s not a necessary condition.) In any case, the US government *is* culpable, and should pay, for grave injustices committed by the US government.

A third confusion involves the difference between CRT on one the hand and, on the other hand, uncontested historical and economic facts that often feature in discussions around CRT

For example: it’s just a fact that the US government created what we know as the white middle class via publicly subsidized programs that were, by law, unavailable to people of color—which engendered persisting disparities in wealth, opportunity, income, access to education, etc.

Whatever one thinks of CRT, these are facts. Yes, there’s room to debate the lingering effects of such policies and how best to proceed as a political community—questions around policing, taxes, zoning, school funding and so on. But the facts themselves are not open to question.

I’m convinced that a lot of what gets labeled as ‘CRT’ nowadays is just history that white people don’t like to talk about and don’t want their kids reading about in school. But that’s no way for a just society to proceed. We and our children must understand our history in order to be competent citizens who participate in shaping laws and public policies that give everyone their due.

Once these points are clarified, there’s room for more fruitful dialogue about questions that are legitimately contested (provided that one’s interlocutor is operating in good faith, of course—which isn’t always the case).

Empty lecture hall

Racism & Patriarchy: Two Strands of the Same Authoritarian Theology

There’s a lot of overlap among evangelicals who dismiss social justice (or “wokeness”) as Marxist, those who embrace patriarchy, and those whose theology borrows heavily from the thinking of men who claim biblical support for chattel slavery and segregation. 

The overlap isn’t coincidental: all of these commitments flow from an authoritarian outlook that organizes people into a divinely ordained hierarchy, based largely on innate physical characteristics, and conceives of morality as a matter of obedience to one’s natural superiors. They all hold that God has designed some people to exercise authority, and God has designed others to practice submission to authority. Moral order is achieved when we inhabit our God-ordained place in the hierarchy; and apart from that hierarchy, there is no morality.

According to this paradigm, there’s no inconsistency in holding a church gathering that violates public health mandates, and then invoking Romans 13 to admonish those who protest U.S. immigration policy or the rate at which our government kills and imprisons African Americans. The men who embrace this conception of morality don’t even seem to understand the tension: by all appearances, they believe that Romans 13 is addressed to those for whom God has ordained submission—the disenfranchised and dispossessed—not those in authority, like themselves. In their view, laws and public policies that crystalize inequity are evidence of God’s design rather than a consequence of human depravity: systemic inequality is an expression of moral truth rather than a transgression against it.

Authoritarian theologian John W. Duggar reasons explicitly along these lines in his 1954 essay, God’s Answer to Segregation, in which he purports to offer a biblical rationale for racial segregation. The year he published God’s Answer to Segregation, Duggar co-founded the Baptist Missionary Alliance Theological Seminary (BMATS), where he served as professor, President (1973–83), and President Emeritus (1983–98). The library at BMATS, completed in 1981, bears his name.


According to Duggar, “All races in the nation should have opportunity for education, for better living conditions, and for citizenship; but in this life they can never be equal in every respect any more than a man and a woman can be equal. God made man for his place and woman for hers. He did not intend for them to change places. If you took all the men and made them housekeepers and took all the women and made them all bread-winners, there would be confusion in this world. God let each of us be born in the sphere of His choosing. …we do not see stars trying to be the sun, or the moon trying to be a star. Everything in God’s universe has its place. … All humans differ. None are equal. The races are not equal.”

Duggar (1954), God’s Answer to Segregation

Duggar continues, “By certain aptitudes instilled in the various colored races God has fitted each for the purpose he intended for them. … God permitted the spread of the white race over the earth, for the Gentiles were to predominate in the spread of the Gospel. They were to be more faithful as missionaries of the Gospel Truth than Semites or Hamites. … The white race has an aptitude for exploration, colonization, and scientific progress. Migration of this race to other lands has necessitated the improvement of means of transportation.” Further, Duggar claims, “Descendants of Ham are human beings… However, their place is clearly that of inferiority… God gave them talents to serve others, and there is no race that can compete with them in that field. With proper training they become of great benefit to humanity. They should be educated and should have rights of citizenship, but all the laws and decrees of man can never lift them out of their physical, social, and mental inferiority. They are doomed to that by the decree of Almighty God.” Duggar concludes that, “From the facts presented herein, surely no one could deny that God sanctions segregation of the races by physical separation. …the answer was practically given in the raising of the question, for God speaks plainly.”

I don’t mean to suggest that fondness for patriarchy is identical to racism, or that all patriarchists are racists—rather that the push for gendered hierarchy and the push for racial hierarchy are animated by the same authoritarian impulse. Moreover, once we’ve embraced the authoritarian’s premise that God has designed some people for dominion and others for submission, the line between gender-based subjugation and race-based subjugation is morally arbitrary. The patriarchist might tell himself that he has Scripture to support his position while the racist does not. But as we’ve just demonstrated, the racist can match the patriarchist for biblical proof-texts, in both quantity and purported clarity.

Racists and patriarchists within evangelicalism don’t merely share an ideology, they fish in the same streams. BMATS, the seminary Duggar co-founded the year he published “God’s Answer to Segregation,” is among the sponsors of an upcoming conference in Denton, TX: “Wokeness and the Gospel”. Speakers include a number of renowned patriarchists, including one newly minted Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council, known for his Duggar-like confidence in the clarity of biblical proof-texts that commend human subjugation. Another of the conference’s sponsors is The Master’s Seminary, whose figurehead once had the temerity to suggest that an eminent female Bible teacher should “Go home,” only to demur when local health officials suggested he do the same.

(For his part, the current President of BMATS, Charley Holmes, said that McArthur’s admonition to “Go home” didn’t go far enough (Baptist Trumpet, Nov. 13, 2019). I’m not aware of any statement from Holmes or BMATS regarding Duggar’s racism.)

Whether it’s organized by race or gender, authoritarian theologians baptize their preferred social hierarchy in biblical proof-texts that they alone have the authority to interpret and deem sufficiently clear to bind the conscience of all believers. The conservative evangelical conscience will remain fragmented as long as we attempt to derive morality from a curated collection of biblical proof-texts, tailored by men in power to justify the established order.

Modernity, Evangelicalism and Moral Relativism

The reason that so many conservative evangelicals these days appear to be moral relativists is that they *are* moral relativists. They would deny this, of course. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Here’s why. 

They’ve bought into the premise that all statements are either fact or opinion: facts are objective and verifiable; and everything else is opinion—subjective and unverifiable. In other words, they’ve bought into full-fledged modernism. From there, the secular path to moral relativism places all moral statements in the “opinion” category. On this view, morality is subjective—dependent on cultural context, historical background and the like.

Conservative evangelicals recoil from this approach, as they should. So instead, they place morality in the “fact” category, claiming that moral truth is objective and empirically verifiable. And how is moral truth empirically verified? The Bible, of course. Problem solved. This is tempting, for two reasons. First, Scripture is entirely true; and much of that truth pertains to morality.

Second, apart from special revelation, it’s difficult to imagine where we might go to find empirical verification of moral truth—you can’t *see* moral properties. But perspicuity of the Gospel notwithstanding, Scripture is complex. A surface level reading of this or that proof-text might be used to justify all manner of wickedness—and it has, from slavery and Holy War to the subjugation of women and segregation. So if we look to Scripture for empirical verification of moral truth, whose understanding of Scripture is definitive? Do we trust the guy who says that Scripture condones chattel slavery, or the guy who says that Scripture commands us to seek justice for the oppressed? 

An alarming number of evangelicals have chosen to trust the discernment of ambitious men who offer Biblical proof-texts bathed in who-is-my-neighbor hermeneutics: political realism and moral relativism with a veneer of objective truth. Thus, e.g., conservative Southern Baptists claim to embrace objective morality based in Scripture, within a theological framework that has engendered totally contrary beliefs over time on such issues of moral salience as slavery, Jim Crow and racial segregation. The arc of that moral evolution wasn’t drawn by objective truth or the Word of God, neither of which is subject to change. Whether through armed conflict or threat of taxation, many in the evangelical fold had to be forced into the embrace of moral progress. How is it that people so dedicated to moral truth are so often among the last to acknowledge the moral outrages of an unjust social order? And if moral truth is unchanging, why are evangelicals constantly amending their moral convictions from one decade to the next? Because it’s a mistake to search for moral truth among empirical facts—that’s not the solution to the ‘fact-opinion’ dilemma.

There’s a third category that isn’t fact or opinion: namely, objective truth that isn’t empirically verifiable. That’s where we find objective morality. How do we arrive at knowledge of truth that isn’t empirically verifiable? Reason—rational cognition—without which Scripture is too easily twisted into a patchwork of self-serving proof-texts, tailored to the interests of men whose principal concern is amplifying their own power. 

We’ve got to stop proof-texting. And we’ve got to stop listening to the kinds of theologians and pastors who pretend to have an easy answer for every social or political problem that arises in the course of human affairs. Manifestly, such men do not have the answers: if they did, they wouldn’t have occasion to contradict themselves with every shift of the wind; and they wouldn’t have turned two generations of evangelicals into self-seeking moral relativists. 

Racism, Misogyny and Abuse: Why the SBC Keeps Getting it Wrong

Co-authored with Susan Codone

“When Southern Baptists established the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859, the prevailing orthodoxy of its white clergy included commitment to the legitimacy of slavery.”

-Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of SBTS

The phrase ‘prevailing orthodoxy’ is doing a lot of rhetorical work here: ‘orthodoxy’ evokes the safe harbor of official sanction, while ‘prevailing’ conjures a sense of resignation to the inertia of established norms. Yet the question must be asked: as of 1859, how prevalent was the view that the institution of slavery was morally legitimate? Across the West? No. America’s N. Atlantic peers abolished slavery in the 1840s. Among Americans? No—Civil War was two years away. Among Protestants? No.

It wasn’t even the prevailing orthodoxy of Baptists living in North America: that’s why the SBC was founded. The fact is, slavery was widely regarded as morally legitimate within the SBC because the SBC was instituted for people who regarded slavery as morally legitimate. And this prevailing view rose to the status of religious orthodoxy—right belief—in the same way that wickedness typically seduces the church: moral pronouncements handed down by self-assured men in high places—men whose preoccupation with what is right according to the established order prevents them from questioning the righteousness of the established order.

Such men will answer for much on the day of reckoning, but they will not answer for you and me. In the words of C.S. Lewis, there is no judge between gods and men: we each must give our own account. The standard against which our faith and practice will be measured is truth. We’ll find no refuge in the prevailing orthodoxies of our time.

The danger of religious fundamentalism is that it blinds its adherents to this distinction between prevailing orthodoxy and objective truth. That’s why fundamentalists can see no difference between rejecting God’s Word and rejecting what they say about God’s Word. And that’s why fundamentalists in the SBC are so resistant to institutional reform: once we look beyond what’s good according to the established order and inquire into the goodness of the established order, moral authority shifts away from ambitious men and toward the truth itself.

Men at organizations like the Conservative Baptist Network, FoundersMin and the CBMW all advance orthodoxies that conform to their personal and political interests. But do their agendas conform to moral truth? The SBC’s prevailing orthodoxies have been characterized by racism, misogyny and a refusal to acknowledge the moral salience of institutions—despite overwhelming evidence that wicked men cannot simply be relied upon to refrain from doing wicked things. For example:

Centuries of injustice have produced a divergence in the lived experience of Americans from different racial backgrounds—between those who read the book of Exodus and see their ancestors among the people of Israel, and those who should see their ancestors among the Egyptians. Yet the SBC’s prevailing orthodoxy holds that differences in experience are irrelevant to our grasp of truth. Thus civil rights leaders in the ‘60s and ‘70s were dismissed by white Southern Baptists as liberals and Marxists, as are those calling for systemic justice in 2020.

According to the SBC’s prevailing orthodoxy in the 1850s, although people of African and European descent were created equally in the image of God, the latter were entitled to strip the former of their autonomy and ownership of their labor capacity. Today, according to the prevailing orthodoxy of some in the SBC, women are created equal to men; but the principal occupation for which they are so created is unpaid domestic service to their husbands and children.

According to the prevailing orthodoxy of the 1850s, the fact that rape was endemic to the institution of slavery was an indication that, at most, slave owners should be admonished to refrain from raping slaves—not that the institution of slavery was iniquitous. Unlike slavery, church autonomy is a morally neutral convention. But according to the prevailing orthodoxy of our time, church autonomy is so sacred that preserving it takes precedence over institutional oversight designed to prevent serial sexual predation.

Sexual predation is framed as an issue of individual conduct, rather than an institutional failure to hold predators and their enablers to account. Those calling for systemic reform are dismissed as leftists, Marxists and feminists, just like civil rights leaders before them. Thus the prevailing orthodoxies of our day have enabled unchecked sexual abuse within the SBC—long term, unfettered movement of sexual predators from one SBC church to the next. Prevention efforts are lackluster, while protections for predators are robust.

All of these evils, from slavery and racism to misogyny and serial predation, are variations on a theme: abuse of power, engendered by prevailing orthodoxies that render systemic injustice invisible to those whose moral horizons are tethered to individual piety.

Justice As Integrity

Every word that public evangelicals uttered in the 90s about the importance of integrity in leadership now serves as an indictment of their own unfitness to lead. But more important than the rank hypocrisy of public evangelicals is the matter of how we arrived at a place where, outside of one or two causes that cost us nothing to promote, many Christians don’t even pretend to integrate their faith with their politics. In fact, such is the disarray of the evangelical political conscience, it may be helpful to comment on what integrity means and why it matters.

As individuals, we all occupy a variety of social roles—e.g., spouse, parent, colleague, citizen, etc. I have integrity when I approach each of these social roles in a way that’s consistent with how I approach the others. When I have integrity, all the different parts of my life fit together—they are integrated—around a single coherent identity. By contrast, I lack integrity when I inhabit one social role in a way that is inconsistent with who I am (or pretend to be) in some other social role.

The opposite of integrity is disintegration—an identity that’s fragmented. My identity is fragmented when I move through the various social roles that I occupy without any real sense of the self that inhabits each role, or how those roles inform the narrative of my life. 

Like an individual, a political community that lacks integrity is fragmented. As a society, we have integrity when we share a sense of concern for what each of us deserves and what we owe to each other—which is to say, a shared concern for justice. (The alternative to justice as a shared point of integration would be an ideology based in some feature identity—such as race, ethnicity or religion. But we tend to reject, e.g., white nationalism as racist, Christian nationalism as idolatrous, and so on.) A shared concern for justice furnishes us with a common goal for civic life, by reference to which it makes sense to debate and seek consensus around moral questions like what our laws ought to be and how our resources should be allocated.

By contrast, when we lack a shared horizon for deciding questions about what people deserve, our society is merely a collection of interest groups that assert their political will without regard for what we owe to each other. And herein lies the source of much white evangelical hypocrisy in the political sphere.

Decades ago, a few self-appointed spokesmen decided that God’s blessed rage for justice is best articulated by a Church that seeks to make America the sort of place where upper-middleclass Christians can await the eschaton in relative comfort. Yet we proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who insisted over and over again that our devotion to him is measured by our regard for the interests of those most vulnerable to injustice: the orphan, the immigrant and the dispossessed. So our conduct in the political arena serves as a public refutation of our witness. Unbelievers read the Bible, too; and they can see that we’re not living out the values we claim to espouse. It’s evident that we’re not truly pro-life or pro-family. The tax policies that we favor reveal what we value: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Instead of advocating for economic policies that are conducive to raising a family, we prefer policies that allow us to keep as much of our paycheck as possible.

It’s important for Christian institutions to retract racist sentiments and establish scholarship funds. But mostly in the way a painkiller is important—it silences the pain momentarily even though it does nothing to heal the underlying infirmity. Evangelicalism’s fractured identity cannot be patched up by attending to symptoms. Evangelicalism won’t have integrity while there are yet unrebuked seminary faculty who’ve made a cottage industry of opposing godly calls for justice, with speeches that are contrary to the sweep of Christian theology and transparently ignorant of Western intellectual history.

Our identity will remain fractured until we set aside our own interests in the interest of justice. And until then, who we vote for matters a lot less than the fact that we’re voting for entirely the wrong reasons.

A Man and His Inheritance (When Clarifications Fail)

There’s been a lot of equivocating from woke-truthers in the last few days, to the effect that: “Well, systemic injustice might be a real thing (at least historically). But CRT though.”

Rather than pick apart all their hedging, I’m just going to offer a detailed example of systemic injustice and consider it in light of Scripture.

In 1934, the U.S. Government created the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to oversee a mortgage insurance program that facilitated homeownership for millions of Americans. But the FHA only insured mortgages in neighborhoods that systematically excluded people of color.

So white Americans were given an opportunity to accrue equity in real estate with the help of the FHA—a program that was subsidized by all taxpayers, including those of color, who were effectively barred from owning desirable real estate. In other words, the U.S. Government systematically transferred wealth from people of color (in the form of taxpayer subsidies for the FHA mortgage program), to white Americans (in the form of home equity, mortgage interest tax deductions and so on).

The primary consequence of this FHA policy was, of course, segregated neighborhoods. And given that school districting proceeds on the basis of residential location, a secondary consequence of the policy was racially segregated public schools across the country. (Which is why, in the era of school desegregation, black students had to ride buses to the other side of town in order to attend schools that had previously been restricted to students from exclusively white neighborhoods.)

A tertiary effect of the FHA policy was to ensure that public schools zoned for white students received better funding than those zoned for black students: By making it easier for banks to lend to potential buyers in white neighborhoods, the FHA policy increased demand for homes in those neighborhoods, driving up property values and thus the property taxes from which public schools derive much of their funding.

Meanwhile, property values of minority homeowners were diminished by a broader zoning regime that diverted everything from bars, night clubs and factories to toxic waste facilities and other environmental hazards away from white neighborhoods. And all these effects of residential segregation conspired to facilitate a system of racially disparate policing and incarceration that has been well documented.

Racially discriminatory zoning was outlawed in 1968; and racial discrimination in mortgage lending was outlawed in 1977. But by that time, the cost of real estate was prohibitive for all but high income-earners and those whose families already had access to home equity. From 1973–80, the value of the average American home increased by 43 percent. For those who didn’t already own homes, who relinquished more and more of their lifetime income with each month’s rent, spiking real estate prices moved homeownership further from reach.

And these decades of dispossession reverberate in the lives of our brothers and sisters of color, whose parents and grandparents were robbed of the opportunity to amass and transfer what would have been their inheritance: Even now, young African Americans are ten times more likely than young white Americans to live in poor neighborhoods (66 percent compared to 6 percent). Less than 10 percent of white families have lived in poor neighborhoods for 2 or more consecutive generations, compared to half of all African American families (48 percent). The median white household has about $134K in wealth, whereas the median black household has about $11K.

Woke-truthers eagerly observe that we must live with the natural and logical consequences of our sin. They are less eager to acknowledge that people of color have long been living with the natural and logical consequences of sins committed against their fathers and grandfathers.

Marxism and CRT are irrelevant here: the fear of God is sufficient for discerning the wickedness of a system that perpetuates disparities in wealth, income and opportunity that originate in explicitly racist laws—i.e., systemic injustice. Here the woke-truthers reply that this is all very regrettable and they are, *just to be absolutely clear, lest the reader misunderstand* categorically opposed to racial discrimination in all its forms. They just think that government intervention isn’t the remedy.

So woke-truthers aren’t anti-justice—they’re just anti-big government. But this attempt at clarification makes them appear more confused than ever. These woke-truthers have spent the last decade promoting a “traditional” ideal of nuclear family with a single breadwinner and his homemaking wife. Yet this ideal was “traditional” only for a narrow subset of Americans, and only for a couple of decades in the mid-twentieth century, and the whole scheme was subsidized by *the largest government redistribution of wealth in U.S. history*, the crown jewel of which was the FHA.

So either they don’t favor small government, or they don’t mean what they say about their ideal of family, or they’ve once again allowed their enthusiasm to outrun their expertise and they simply fail to grasp the contradiction. And personal hypocrisy aside, extolling the virtues of small government and free enterprise once you’ve benefitted from a massive, government-sponsored redistribution of wealth is a bit like cheating your way through the first half of a basketball game, and then—with your unfair lead firmly in hand—insisting that the second half be a healthy competition governed by strict principles of fair play. This is the epitome of injustice; and it is precisely that air of entitlement that has invited the left’s most strident criticisms.

Self-appointed spokesmen of the white evangelical church have no one to thank but themselves for the fragmentation of our political community. Instead of calling God’s people to do justice, they have been among the most reliable patrons of injustice.

Good people, this is what the Bible is about. Absent God’s grace made manifest among us, injustice will destroy our civilization from the inside. America doesn’t need law and order. America needs citizens who will put the interest of justice above their own selfish preferences.

“But Scott,” you may say, “aren’t you just being ‘woke’?” I guess that depends on how “woke” you think God is. Here’s God, speaking through the prophet Micah (2:1–2):

 “Woe to those who devise iniquity… Because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and take them by violence, also houses, and seize them. So they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.”

That’s a divine invocation of exquisite suffering on those who maintain a social order that deprives families of the intergenerational wealth afforded by real property.

And here’s what God says to the woke-truthers of Micah’s day, who think their religion will save them from the reckoning (3:5–12):

“Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who make my people stray; who chant ‘Peace’ while they chew with their teeth, but who prepare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths… Yet they lean on the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us’. Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed like a field, Jerusalem shall become heaps of ruins, and the mountain of the temple like the bare hills of a forest.”

It’s as if God is telling us that if we don’t do justice, some vandalism might happen—not because God condones that sort of thing, but because it’s a natural and logical consequence of an unjust social order. So don’t wink at injustice and then pray for peace.

I don’t know why these woke-truthers have suddenly decided to talk about justice. If I had to guess, I’d say they finally realized that there’s no future for them in nipping at Beth Moore’s heels and shaming the working wives and mothers who pay their seminary salaries. So they looked around for a new controversy to exploit, and “social justice” is where they landed. That’s my guess. But what I know is that these men follow a troubling pattern: bombast, followed by manipulation, followed by bullying. They begin with bold assertions that are predicated, as best I can tell, on nothing more than their own uncultivated intuitions. (Invariably, these pronouncements are attended by lurid adverbial phrases, but never any suggestion of an actual argument.) When others disagree, these men attempt to manipulate Scripture or doctrine to suit their rhetorical goals. And finally, they declare that anyone who refuses to accept their account of Scripture or doctrine is a false teacher and must therefore be excluded from the group.

I can’t imagine this is the sort of conduct that should be held up to seminarians as a model for pastoral care: take a firm position on something you haven’t really studied; when people disagree, tell them the Bible says so; and if they still disagree, show them the door.

No good is served when ambitious theologians speak with unearned confidence about technical matters that they haven’t studied in any disciplined way; and it is harmful when they then attempt to shoehorn their views into Scripture and present their convictions as the Word of God. If these men want to give lectures on political philosophy, I suggest they host a dinner party for likeminded friends. Or perhaps they might start a book club. These are fora in which it is appropriate for amateurs to discuss their passions. It is unbecoming of an academic to hold himself out as an expert on subjects that are far afield from his training. Beyond that, it is toxic for theologians in particular to hide extra-Biblical agendas in their presentation of Scripture.