It’s hard to argue with the Watchdog (as in FBC Jax Watchdog) when the leadership of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, FL continually lobs softballs for him (and others) to hit out of the ballpark. Such was the case when John Blount, the Executive Pastor (and second-in-command) of this Southern Baptist mega-church in NE Florida, introduced Newt and Callista Gingrich on the last night of their annual Pastor’s Conference. Pastor Blount, in what the Watchdog calls “a glowing introduction,” said this about the former Southern Baptist-turned Catholic politician who is in a battle with Mormon Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination for President:
“We have joining us tonight, uh, a grandfather, I think is probably his first priority, a father. He is a historian, he is a teacher, a professor. He is a thinker, a learner, a prolific writer. He loves America, he loves freedom. Over the last 32 years of his life, he has given public service to his country, an also too seeking the greatness of America. He has come to be with us tonight, Mr. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, candidate for the Republican presidency (sic). And his wife Callista.”
Only two days before the pivotal Florida Primary, it’s no surprise why Newt Gingrich would try to
bamboozle woo Evangelicals at this large gathering of conservative pastors and lay folks. The real question is why would the Executive Pastor of a prominent Southern Baptist church appear to give his endorsement to a political candidate? The best that can be said about the above introduction is that it is simply perplexing. The worst that can be said is that it borders on moral negligence.
I should not be surprised that so many Baptists — of every stripe and size — have forgotten that our Baptist forefathers fought and died for religious liberty and freedom in this country. While we may disagree with our more moderate Baptist brethren about the principle of “separation of church and state,” we should be able to agree that the government — including politicians — should not influence the church. Of course, the church and individual Christians (and people of all faiths or no faith at all) should influence the government for the good. Which brings us back to FBC Jacksonville and its recognition of Newt and Callista Gingrich.
If this was not a blatant attempt on the part of the spiritual leaders of this church to curry favor with a powerful politician who has a chance (hopefully slim) of becoming the next President of the United States, then how exactly should we interpret Pastor Blount’s introduction? Put in a different context, would President and Mrs. Obama — should they choose to visit FBC Jacksonville — be accorded the same overly positive introduction? What about Mitt Romney and Ann, his wife of 40+ years? I guess as long as a former adulterer shares your political beliefs, that’s really all that matters.
I think the answer to those questions is fairly obvious. That’s why this type of political maneuvering by spiritual leaders presents, at the very least, an appearance of unseemly behavior and, at worst, an instance of moral negligence, not to mention hypocrisy of the highest order. No wonder why so many non-Christians view Christians and the church as nothing more than moral hypocrites. Conservative Evangelicals rightfully castigated Bill Clinton for his moral failures while in the White House but continue to give Newt Gingrich a pass on his moral indisrections while serving as Speaker of the House during the Impeachment proceedings of President Clinton. It seems that so many are trusting certain politicians — including Newt Gingrich — to save America. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows, but that illicit sleeping arrangement will only lead to heartache.
The Evangelical church in America today is much like the Israelites who longed for a king — any king. They got Saul. There’s no doubt, as Pastor Blount said, that Mr. Gingrich is a grandfather, father, teacher, historian, teacher, professor, thinker, learner, and prolific writer who loves his country. What description is missing in that glowing introduction? It’s what was missing in King Saul’s life and what led him to be such a poor leader. If I have to tell you, you probably wouldn’t understand.