Memo to my Fellow Southern Baptists: Might Is Not Right

First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress’s comments about President Donald Trump (for whom he is an official surrogate) and North Korea are deeply irresponsible, even if interpreted in the most charitable light imaginable. In remarks to The Washington Post, Jeffress said:

When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un. I’m heartened to see that our president — contrary to what we’ve seen with past administrations who have taken, at best, a sheepish stance toward dictators and oppressors — will not tolerate any threat against the American people. When President Trump draws a red line, he will not erase it, move it, or back away from it. Thank God for a president who is serious about protecting our country.

Note carefully that Jeffress doesn’t simply assert just war theory, or argue that protecting American citizens is paramount for the government. Instead, he baldy assumes the role of Old Testament prophet and says that God has specifically given President Trump a specific moral clearance to wage war against a specific leader and country. This isn’t just political commentary from a pastor. It’s Urim and Thummim.

I thought this was exactly the kind of partisan, divisive rhetoric that Southern Baptist leadership was so concerned about with regards to the ERLC and this summer’s resolution on the alt-right? Wasn’t Russell Moore pressured by megachurch pastors and SBC personalities to tone down what they felt was his too-assertive critique of the Trump campaign? Wasn’t the problem with Moore allegedly that he was not “staying in his lane” as head of the moral and public policy arm of Southern Baptists, that he was over-politicizing his platform?

“Ok,” you may respond, “but Moore is the head of an SBC entity, and Jeffress is merely a pastor of an SBC church.” To which I say: Yes, he’s the pastor of a 12,000 member church, in the most Southern Baptist state in the country. Does Southern Baptist leadership really not think that when Americans hear or read Jeffress offer blanket endorsements of war, they think he speaks for Southern Baptists? If Moore’s comments were problematic in that they confused people as to the official position of the denomination (which is precisely what many of his loudest critics claimed was the issue), there is no reason why Jeffress’s comments shouldn’t be viewed as equally problematic–unless, of course, the right people in the denomination agree with Jeffress and disagree with Moore.

And I certainly hope that’s not true, because if it is, I fear my denominational home may be slouching toward Zarathustra. What Jeffress told the Washington Post is a thinly veiled appeal to “might is right.” Why are we so confident that President Trump has God’s green light to start a war? Well, it’s because—wait for it–he’s President. It’s because he can. That’s the message we’re getting from one of the most influential SBC pastors in the country. God has become Thomas Cromwell, rewriting revelation so the king can do as he please.

This is a disgrace.

Southern Baptist leadership needs to take these comments as a serious error signal as to the health of the denomination. When prominent pastors whose political alliances can cause people like Russell Moore to be on the defensive for their job are talking like this in public, something has gone drastically wrong. Many Southern Baptist seminaries and colleges teach just war theory, insisting that because all people are made in God’s image, the burden of proof for military violence is very high. That’s a noble tradition, a biblically responsible one. It’s a far cry from the shameless Nietzschean call to arms we’re hearing right now.


Image credit