“Theological Police”? Paleo Evangelicals and Ben Carson

“Theological Police”? Paleo Evangelicals and Ben Carson May 5, 2015

In the week since my Washington Post piece on Baptists and Ben Carson, some critics have accused the Southern Baptist Convention of a new kind of fundamentalism. Baptists unduly rescinded the offer to Carson to speak at the Pastors’ Conference because of (what the critics see as) irrelevant theological differences between evangelicals and Seventh-Day Adventists (Carson’s denomination). Megachurch pastor Perry Noble called those who asked the SBC to retract the invitation “theological police” who “love theology more than Jesus.”

The controversy raises again the value of a paleo evangelical approach to politics. What the critics don’t appreciate is how badly evangelical churches need to keep their distance from contemporary party politics, and from endorsing specific candidates. With Southern Baptists still emerging from the political excesses of the Moral Majority era, non-evangelicals see conservative Christians in America primarily as pious Republicans. Evangelicals will undoubtedly maintain conservative political positions on topics such as the value of life, the meaning of marriage, and the primacy of religious liberty, but they need to be wary of cozying up too much with political candidates. They especially need to drop any notion that Kingdom work will be primarily accomplished through government and politicians. This is both an issue of mission focus, and gospel clarity.

Regarding Carson, I want to make a clear distinction that has been muddled by the controversy over his speaking invitation. Carson is a perfectly legitimate candidate with an enormously appealing life story, and many evangelicals may well decide to support him in the presidential primaries. Just as I argued with regard to Mitt Romney, evangelicals often will find themselves supporting candidates with non-evangelical personal beliefs, especially if that person (like Carson) takes conservative positions on life, marriage, and liberty.

The problem that I and many other Baptists had with Carson speaking at the Pastors’ Conference is not primarily that he is an Adventist. My problem is that evangelicals need to stop platforming political candidates at denominational functions. This goes not only for Carson, but even for someone like former Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee.

By highlighting the political insiders of the week at Kingdom-oriented events, we keep giving the watching world the impression that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is inextricably connected to voting Republican. And that our talk about Jesus, grace, and forgiveness is really just pious window-dressing for a core political agenda. Annual denominational meetings for pastors should attend to issues such as the best preaching practices, evangelism, missions, reaching and discipling young people, praying for revival, etc. – isn’t that enough to do without giving keynote space to random presidential candidates?

Paleo evangelicals will want to run Ben Carson’s candidacy through the same tests that you would use for any candidate: beyond life, religious liberty, and marriage, we might ask, does this person have sufficient experience and understanding for the challenges of the presidency? (Carson’s chief weakness, I would think, is his lack of relevant experience.) Does this person seem likely to pursue more interminable war and nation-building interventions across the world? Does he or she have a thoughtful, realistic approach to immigration policy that balances welcoming the stranger with upholding the law?

If Carson passes these tests better than other primary candidates, then by all means, evangelicals can and should support him. (I doubt that he will, on balance, be the best choice for paleo evangelicals.) The point about the Carson controversy is not what individual evangelicals choose to do in the voting booth. It is that events like the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference need to be campaign-free zones. We’ve got more important Kingdom business that urgently needs attention.

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  • Phoenix

    I dunno. Many evangelicals got behind Mitt Romney. Although I’m not a fan of Dr. Carson I’m not sure I can buy, looking at the former, issues over theological differences of seventh day adventists and mormons. Perry Noble on the other hand..

  • dmr5090

    Thomas, question out of sheer curiosity, raised by this series of quotes:

    “Evangelicals will undoubtedly maintain conservative political positions
    on topics such as the value of life, the meaning of marriage, and the
    primacy of religious liberty, but they need to be wary of cozying up too
    much with political candidates… / My problem is that evangelicals need to stop platforming political candidates at denominational functions… / By
    highlighting the political insiders of the week at Kingdom-oriented
    events, we keep giving the watching world the impression that the Gospel
    of Jesus Christ is inextricably connected to voting Republican.”

    I very much appreciate your call to maintain gospel centrality in evangelical focus, and your clear passion to blow up utopianism in all its forms, including unhelpful notions that conservative Christians too often adopt subconsciously: that if they could only get their candidate in, it’d usher in the new heavens and new earth. All very important and helpful points to keep in view. And your objection to a denominational organization cozying up to a particular candidate (especially so soon!) is especially helpful. Thanks for that.

    But here’s my question: suppose the SBC had invited *all* major conservative presidential contenders to speak on socially conservative issues (which many evangelicals *would* understand to be intertwined with gospel faithfulness itself)–would you still raise the same objection? In other words, I suppose I’m wondering whether your main objection is the avoidance of a particular candidate, or the political process generally. I could understand hesitancy to invite such speakers to present during church services, of course. But I’m having difficulty seeing the problem with inviting *multiple* candidates as speakers to a denominational gathering. I’m not even saying it’s a great idea; just wondering your thoughts on whether or not it’d be appropriate, and if not, why not?

    The gospel of Jesus Christ may not be inextricably connected to voting for a particular party, but it seems to me connected to voting for a particular worldview which, unfortunately, has been restricted to within the bounds of one party. Thoughts?

  • Nikato Muirhead

    I am an evangelical. I have very strong Christian beliefs (I’ve even had an op-ed in the New York Times). The only reason I voted Romney was because my pastor told us that we needed to do it. (My pastor does not want or need 501c3 so he is free to speak.) He said we can disagree about some Christian Concepts since Mormons are nowhere close to Christian. As long as we vote for the candidate most likley to protect unborn babies, that is the priority. Romney was the least of all evils as it relates to the lives of the unborn. His Personal salvation is in his hands, his gamble. This election will be very different than previous elections. I live in Oklahoma, and since Dr. Carson is running, I am changing my political affiliation officially from Democrat to Republican. I know at least half a dozen people in my local sphere of influence who will do the same. The results of the Republican primaries will shock people. As it relates to the southern baptists, I see it as sour grapes. They are jealous of the Seventh-Day-Adventist church, and they disagree with the Saturady Sabbath. The Southern Baptists have to grapple with the fact that Jesus never changed the law. He never changed the Sabbath to Sunday, and he never told his church or the Jews to start eating Pork. Jesus, in addition to providing ALL the OPPORTUNITY for salvation, was also to eliminate the need for animal sacrifices, since he was the ultimate sacrifice. Embracing Ben Carson would be the equiovalent of embracing the scriptural correcteness of the seventh-day sabbath.

  • kierkegaard71

    I am just wary of the allure to the church in an organized fashion using politics to advance the kingdom of God. Politics involves the acquisition of power for evil and good ends. The reason why righteous living is not a reality in America is not because of the failure of the church to engage in politics in a more organized manner. Yes, Christians can be involved in politics. But I think it is more effective for the church collectively to intentionally focus and seek the triumph of the gospel in individuals and families. Let it impact the nation through overflow. It’ll be a slower process. However, I think it will be more effective, in the long haul.

  • I am not SBC any longer, but the setting matters. This is not a general SBC meeting, but the annual pastors conference. A meeting that is traditionally about equipping pastors, not about giving place for politicians a place to speak.

  • Thomas Kidd

    I would not have as much of a problem with inviting a range of candidates, but what purpose would this serve at a Pastors’ Conference? Perhaps an ERLC event would be the right venue for this.

  • Lynn B.

    I am very concerned about the many people jumping on the bandwagon in support of Dr. Ben Carson when we know very little about his policy positions. He has an incredible story, he is soft-spoken, and speaks of personal responsibility and common sense. What else do we know about him? Do you know he long ago went on record believing the government should have responsibility for catastrophic health care and for setting policy on who should receive end of life medical care? What about education, welfare, national defense, immigration, etc., etc., what are his positions and how can you choose to support a candidate before you know?

  • SomeRandomName

    The Pastor’s Conference is not a “denominational event,” as it is not a meeting of the SBC.

    This whole hubbub shows why it is not, and should not. Bible-believing Baptists agree on many things, but asking Mesengers to plan a single, semi-official conference for pastors won’t work. I suspect many younger pastors think even Payday Someday is bad preaching — and they’re welcome to hold a competing conference with any mix of religion and culture they want.

    But the wink, wink, nudge, nudge about the “SBC Pastor’s Conference” being something other than a “conference organized by popular pastors before the annual meeting” is confusing and harmful. Too many people are assuming it’s the “denomination” cozying up to Republicans, when it is not the denomination. And that results in calls for the conference to reflect the official Baptist position. Committees produce consensus and cooperation — but lousy conferences.

    Call it something different, and let them invite anyone they want.

  • RossaRemy

    Why is Marco Rubio not at all in the discussion? He is second in the polls after Bush for the republican nomination. He is conservative, completely pro-life, and has an excellent immigration reform policy.

  • RossaRemy

    Why is Marco Rubio not at all in the discussion? He is second in the polls after Bush for the republican nomination. He is conservative, completely pro-life, and has an excellent immigration reform policy….

  • Nikato Muirhead

    I Like Rubio but not enough to vote for him in the primaries. I see his rise as a well-planned hunger for power. Ben Carson’s ascent comes from a deeper place. I’m certain Marco Rubio would make an excellent president and would vote for him in the general election if he were the Republican candidate.. I have in fact changed my party affiliation to Republucan so I may vote for Ben Carson in Oklahoma’s closed primary. I know several others who have done this same thing.

  • Nikato Muirhead

    I know that whatever decisions Ben Carson makes will not be because of predefined ideology alone. World events are too fluid for that. He will always look for the best solutions and will have the best executive team which can be assembled. He does not like to do anything halfway.

  • Nimblewill

    and yet Liberty University invited a Mormon to speak…………………….

  • Lynn B.

    The discussion is about the SBC un-inviting Ben Carson to speak at their pastor’s conference.

  • TexasRangersFan

    Tom, you and I agree again. There is, as per usual in the SBC, a practicing confusion between praxis of the faith and the praxis of politics. The separation of Church & State was not to create a dualism of power but to prevent the political pragmatics from restricting or polluting the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. The SBC may not hold perfect rulership on the Gospel but we should not start trying, in our own limited way, to recreate the theocracy of Israel which Scripture demonstrates was a dismal failure. Mark Sadler

  • Dr Mike

    As James Davison Hunter wrote five years ago, “It is not an exaggeration to say that the dominant public witness of the Christian churches in America since the early 1980s has been a political witness.”

    And, as he points out, it doesn’t work. Our culture will not be changed through political machinations.

    If the Southern Baptists want to distance themselves from all political entanglements, more power to them. To uninvite Carson for theological reasons, however, may not be the witness we want to show the world either.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Well, that was commencement.

  • Agni Ashwin

    Are you SDA?

  • Nikato Muirhead

    I’m not an SDA, but I can certainly understand the good aspects of their denomination. Knowing that they are they have the best longevity factors of any Christian denomination I find most interesting. Personally, I am in a non-SDA marriage and my wife loves our church. Unless we move out of Oklahoma, there is no chance of us becoming SDA. Also their science is on point. If you want to see Dr Carson rip apart evolution and the Big Bang , watch this. The warning though is that if you watch it to completion it will rewire your thought process. http://youtu.be/fQFCXEZPf38

  • Danny

    I think that it’s wonderful how evangelicals like to have GOP candidates come and tell them their positions on controlling women’s sex lives, gay marriage, religious freedoms exclusively for Christians of course, and how they would take us all back to the utopia of the Reagan years. It’s even better that the candidates will bend over backward trying to “out conservative” each other in a public display that they will be desperately backing away from the second they become the GOP’s chosen candidate. Unfortunately for the GOP, these hysterical juggernauts in the early election cycle have already made their candidates unelectable in the general election. This whole circus in the age of information is political kryptonite to most of the modern voting public. The conservative Christian evangelical alliance used to serve the GOP well, but the demographics have changed dramatically. And now, that Christian alliance with the GOP is the Democratic party’s ace in the hole. Between the socially conservative right and the Tea Party’s cold hearted, take no prisoners libertarians, the GOP is hobbled.

  • Zaoldyeck

    It seems Carson doesn’t actually know what the big bang is. I mean, he appears really confused. Is he actually denying relativity when he says “these equations” around 30 minutes in? But… one would have to imagine he accepts Maxwell’s equations, so how in the hell does he manage to have heard about ‘equations describing gravity’ and recognize that computers exist while maintaining that we’re wrong about GR?

    Or is he actually, honestly and truly, stuck entirely on Newtonian dynamics and believes that the ‘big bang was an explosion inside of space’? (Maybe someone should introduce him to Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation failing to account for Mercury’s orbit, and just *try* to explain gravitational lensing without it GR)

    It’s ‘rewiring my thought process’ all right, but mostly in context of “how can this man be running for president” rather than “he is saying something substantial”.

    Out of curiosity, what do YOU believe the “Big Bang” states? Because I’d kinda be willing to call it ‘fact’ in the sense of ‘facts are observations’. If I toss and apple up, and it falls back to earth, it is a ‘fact that I observed the apple fall back to earth’. I can’t really figure out how to construct a coherent picture of the universe I know given the observations seen without a big bang. I can’t figure out how electricity can obey maxwells equations without causing lorentz invariance, and I can’t figure out how a universe with some degree of lorentz invariance could have general relativity be false… it’s like saying “a=b=c, but a=/=c”.

    What physics do you accept? If you grant me Maxwell’s equations I can prove the big bang for you from first principles, and if you know calculus, can do so rather quickly. If you don’t know calculus it might take a bit more to teach you how calculus is provable by simple algebra.

  • Nikato Muirhead

    I understand the Big Bang theory. Dr Carson kept it simple for the audience. Understanding a theory and then believing it to be true are two different things. Beleiving the Big Bang would require so much faith that I would have to reject basic logic. To get something physical and substantial from nothing. I would have to see it first to believe it. If they ever can push a button and create a hamburger with all the fixings, in a vacuum, without any raw ingredients or preexisting particles, then I could believe the Big Bang to be true. Far easier to believe that someone with the power to go do so simply willed the multiverse into existence. Science can explain how it all works, to the best that we can understand. It is not the job of science to explain where it came from. That is beyond the capability of science itself. It is like asking a dish in a fish tank to understand and explain the bitcoin blockchain.

  • thatdigiguy

    ” My problem is that evangelicals need to stop platforming political candidates at denominational functions.”

    This could well have been 3x’s the font size, bolded, underlined, and colored red.

    The modern evangelifish culture wouldn’t dare put Jesus Christ behind a podium at one of their annual conventions, as He’d quite likely paint their CEOs with the same color as He did the Pharisees – a bunch of dead bones rattling..

    The church needs to QUIT trying to legislate the culture, and begin to infect the culture.

    You want to stop inner city fiascos like Baltimore? Infect them with the Gospel. It’s gonna be expensive, painful, and slow. But it’ll last for eternity, not for an election cycle.

  • BLSkinner

    What the church is doing now is not working when it comes to bringing light and salt into our communities. Look at our crumbling society. Stay comfortable in our churches or take our values into all arenas including the political arena? I’m not talking about endorsing and fundraising for candidates; I’m talking about telling the people in the pews to get up off their tails and see what’s being discussed in their local school board meeting. What is being taught in classrooms? Pay attention to local, state and national politics and vote. Run for office. The Apostle Paul had the boldness to speak out in the marketplace of ideas. Where is the boldness now? Why shouldn’t the Southern Baptist invite someone to speak who is taking his Christian faith into a critical arena in our society?!

  • Conservative

    Isn’t it time to trust and follow Jesus instead of haggling over denominations. When Jesus sent the Apostles out to preach they were not great intellectuals, they did not know the culture of all the Countries they were dispersed to. What they did have was hearts full of the love and trust in Christ and they had the Holy Spirit guiding them.

    Every denomination today has flaws, every denomination is conflicted about gay rights, divorce and immorality. The majority are afraid of preaching sin, they are afraid of offending, they are concerned about keeping those pews full and not losing congregants.

    Take at look at the Baltimore Baptist Church during the recent riots. The Pastor of the Church preached hatred for the police, he did not address the destruction and animalistic behavior of the crowds. The parishioners while in the church spit upon the police, they were appalled that World Food gave the police something to eat. Can anyone say that is Christ-like?

    Take all the Presbyterian churches that are marrying same-sex couples and praising abortion.

    Take the Westboro Baptist church that picket with signs ‘God hates fags, etc. while families are burying their loved ones who died while fighting to keep us free.

    I believe God must weep when he sees how ‘the people called by His name’, have become so diverse and divisive and by how they are fighting over petty things as if they were in charge.

    In the end, pray for wisdom, pray that God’s will be done and pray for the United States of America. We are now well on the path of destruction, we as a Nation have rejected God and his Commandments, we vote for corrupt politicians because they cater to our own petty wants with one hand and take away our freedom with the other. We have replaced God Commandments with ‘political correctness’.

    Let’s stop with man-made divisions and work and pray that our next president can begin the job of restoring the precepts our Country was founded on.

  • Jim

    The Big Bang theory does not rule out the possibility of a god. In fact, it doesn’t even address it.

  • I’m going to use this quote! Excellent truth in a nutshell. “By highlighting the political insiders of the week at Kingdom-oriented events, we keep giving the watching world the impression that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is inextricably connected to voting Republican. And that our talk about Jesus, grace, and forgiveness is really just pious window-dressing for a core political agenda.”

  • Did you notice the point of this article is that a political candidate was dis-invited? Besides your slip-shod, broad-brushed prejudicial language at the outset, its obvious you just wanted to vent your bad attitude.

  • And you were serious about this: “As it relates to the southern baptists, I see it as sour grapes. They are jealous of the Seventh-Day-Adventist church, and they disagree with the Saturady Sabbath.”

    If so, that is maybe the stupidst thing I’ve read in a while. And let me add, unfounded and unsupportable.

    But sense you also said, “The only reason I voted Romney was because my pastor told us that we needed to do it.” Well, I rest my case.

  • Zaoldyeck

    “Dr Carson kept it simple for the audience. ”

    If he ‘kept it simple’ he did so by leaving out every single detail the theory, he built a ‘simple’ strawman. If the audience can’t actually be presented with the actual details of the theory, then how can you come away from it saying he demonstrated anything?

    Again I ask you what you consider the big bang. I consider it this set of facts.
    “1: The universe is expanding.
    2: That means the universe was smaller in the past.
    3: The universe was small enough to have a thermal blackbody spectrum”.

    Beyond that you can speculate all you want, it’s poor taste to comment on the planck epoch but feel free. Although those general facts are basic observations, the CMB is literally that blackbody from the big bang.

    So, yeah, if you are willing to grant me the equations which allow computers to work, using ALGEBRA I can show the big bang. It’s not so ‘complicated’ that you need to dumb it down by avoiding any mention of the real math behind it.

  • Roxene Kimes

    This piece is rather revolting when considering the usurper we have now is delivering from a completely created and erased background via what someone such as a Dr. Ben Carson could OBVIOUSLY deliver by comparison! Those that reject Carson based on his beliefs that moral absolutes still actually exist, (the hallmark of Adventists) are no different than those inside churchianity nationwide who have bought into the correctness that has replaced absolute truth, and yes I *am* referring to *political* correctness which *is* in actuality the very death of Truth. It is sickening to me that PC has federalized Christianity to the point where truth is now just a matter of opinion, WHICH WAS AND IS THE GOAL OF PC!

    Gotta say too that as I was writing this it got me to wondering about Obama’s degreed background and it would be interesting to actually test him to see just what if ANY background he has accepting his obvious training at the hands of his elite handlers to sound like Charley Brown’s mom and to undermine every Christian absolute that our constitution was built upon.

    Oh and one other thing, in terms of where we are relative to moral absolutes, consider the time that we have missed in relationship with our Creator because we refused to see the Sabbath as a moral absolute. Think it matters? From where I stand the very reason we are where we are is due to what we see as a suggestion vs what we know is a command. This is central to the very reason there is relatively nothing anymore that is kept sacred.

  • Zaoldyeck

    “*political* correctness which *is* in actuality the very death of Truth”

    Followed by ‘truth is a matter of opinion’. So… what is ‘truth’? The ‘truth’ revealed to you by your chosen god, which is “TRUTH”, and all other religions are false, and this isn’t just a matter of your opinion?

    By what do you base such a strong claim to understanding TRUTH and the ‘death of it’ in context of our modern secular world. Are you so confident you posses TRUTH that you want to have a theology in the US which abides by your specific chosen TRUTH?

  • Roxene Kimes

    interesting considering that the whole of left and right politicing is a ruse to put power in the hands of those that want to install another power.. one that proves prophetic eschatology. Shall we put our heads in the sand with thoughts that both heaven and freedom are a right rather than a result?

  • David Ish

    if anything Jesus Christ life like a man he would be liberal. Christ said gave ALL to the poor. What you did do the least of you for did to me. For Jewish in over 2000 years a unborn in a petental life. because a life when it is born.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “As long as we vote for the candidate most likley to protect unborn babies, that is the priority”

    But babies already born . . they’re kind sh^& out of luck in the GOP platform . . .