Baptist Church Offers Shameless Campaign Stop for Gingrich

Why buy campaign ads when you can get a free, tailor-made campaign event in front of 3,000 folks during Sunday morning worship at your neighborhood evangelical church? In what surely would make our Baptist forefathers roll over in their graves, a Southern Baptist megachurch — First Redeemer Church in Cummings, GA — gave over its pulpit (there are other ways to describe this, but I will refrain) for a campaign speech by former Southern Baptist turned Roman Catholic, Newt Gingrich. Put into perspective, this made First Baptist Church of Jacksonville’s introduction of Gingrich at the conclusion of their annual Pastor’s Conference look not quite as morally negligent by comparison

Since First Redeemer Church and their Pastor, Dr. Richard Lee, offered their sanctuary as a campaign stop last Sunday for another Catholic, Rick Santorum, it seemed only fitting that Gingrich stand behind the sacred desk during the main worship service on this Lord’s Day. What would a church service be without politicians trying to woo the faithful? At least Gingrich didn’t have his campaign sign posted on the front of the pulpit like Rick Santorum. I suppose Mr. Gingrich having the endorsement of the church’s pastor is even better than a campaign placard. 

If Gingrich were not running for the Republican Presidential nomination and, if the Georgia Republican primary were not nine days away from this campaign event and, if Gingrich were not one of the most unqualified men — character-wise — to run for the Presidency, then one might be tempted to overlook this unhealthy mixture of politics and religion. Don’t get me wrong. I think that Christians should be involved in the political arena. Our voices should be heard in the town square and at the ballot box. However, Christians — particularly Baptists — should never substitute worshipping politics (and politicians) for worshipping the One, True God!  Of course, that’s something that our Baptist ancestors — like Isaac Backus and John Leland — knew all too well. It’s something that this generation of Baptists — if you can still call them that — have sadly forgotten.

But, what can we expect when First Redeemer — along with a growing list of other churches, mega and otherwise — are removing “Baptist” from their name? When I first read that Mr. Gingrich had spoken at First Redeemer Church on a Sunday morning, I thought, “This couldn’t be a Baptist church, could it?” Sadly, it was. This is one of the few times that I was glad that a church no longer publicly identified themselves with the Baptist name (even if they are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention). If this church and her pastor don’t know any better than to allow politicians to troll for votes during what should be set aside as a time of worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, then they are not worthy of the name Baptist.

And, Mr. Gingrich’s charade that he was speaking to the assembled faithful as just a “citizen”  would be laughable if it were not so sad. The man is not just a citizen. He is a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, who, nine days before an election, was allowed by the undershepherd of this flock to stand behind the pulpit and proclaim disingenuously that he was not speaking as a “religious leader” or as a “saint” — right on both counts — but as just a “citizen.”  We already knew that Mr. Gingrich is a man with no shame. Apparently he was not the only one at First Redeemer with no shame on Sunday!

As the Baptist Faith and Message (1925, 1963 & 2000) states:

XVII. Religious LibertyGod alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. (emphasis added) The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

When will we learn that Christians should not look to politicians to solved the nation’s ills? If we truly believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformative for individuals and for our culture, we would stop the flirting and other untoward behavior that seems to characterize much of the modern church in America. It seems that far too many conservative Evangelicals — including not a few Southern Baptists — “have sold our birthright for a mess of pottage.” (h/t to GA pastor and blogger William Thornton for that quote) In the end, we will just have a mess — a mess of our own making!  

13 comments for “Baptist Church Offers Shameless Campaign Stop for Gingrich

  1. February 27, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Howell, this is certainly a conversation that needs to occur in Baptist life. This is only the primary season. Imagine what happens when a candidate actually exists to opposed President Obama.

    I think the baptist in a name thing actually takes away from your argument however. There are plenty of baptist churches without baptist in name who would not be so politically active.

    • February 27, 2012 at 12:13 PM

      Frank,

      I think you’re right about things getting really interesting — especially within the church — once there is a declared Republican nominee to face President Obama in November. I do believe this will be a vitally important election that Christians should vote in, but I wonder how many churches and pastors will cross a line in their public support of whoever the Republican candidate is? Of course, when (it’s not a matter of if) liberal churches give open support to Democrat candidates, conservatives will be hopping mad. We need to employ consistent standards, regardless of political party or whether the church is liberal or conservative. Quite frankly, conservative churches — especially Southern Baptist ones — should know better. As to the Baptist name or not, it’s probably not so much that First Redeemer didn’t have Baptist in their name, but they are a megachurch with an apparently celebrity pastor who thrives on the political. Thanks and have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Bill Mac
    February 27, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Disfellowshipping a church with a woman pastor who preaches the Gospel but turning a blind eye to churches who misuse their pulpits and abandon (however briefly) their calling to allow politicians to sully their worship service is the height of hypocrisy. Didn’t the Maccabees address a problem like this once?

    • February 27, 2012 at 12:18 PM

      Bill,

      You do bring up a good point. Even if it’s not on all fours (“apples to oranges”), it does point out problems in how we apply certain standards. I think in the case of First Redeemer, they will not only get a pass for sullying their worship service, but they will not get any hard questions even asked of them (apart from yours truly). I think this is more a product of a megachurch, celebrity-driven church culture that almost makes these churches immune from any criticism. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  3. February 27, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Bill, that is comparing apples to oranges in my book. Are you asking that SBC or Georgia convention refuse to seat messengers from First Redeemer over this issue? I might not be thrilled with their actions, but I certainly don’t see it as an issue for fellowship.

  4. Bill Mac
    February 27, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    It certainly seems to me that setting aside your primary worship time to entertain a politician (in this case a particularly unsuitable individual) is the more egregious error. Can you honestly tell me you, on a Sunday morning in your church, would rather hear from one of the most morally corrupt politicians in our lifetime or a woman preaching the Gospel?

    • February 27, 2012 at 12:29 PM

      Bill, a couple of points in response:

      1. I would distinguish between a woman preaching and a woman holding the pastoral office. The churches that have had fellowship issues have related to the pastoral office.
      2. I wasn’t at the service, but I am assuming that Gingrich only gave a few comments. Lee probably still preached. So it isn’t a question of one or the other in this case.
      3. Do we give Gingrich any credit for being repentant of his past sins?
      4. I wouldn’t have done what this church did, but don’t feel it is a point for disfellowship.

  5. February 27, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    Howell, I agree that pulpits should not be used to entertain the voices of politicians during worship hour. I see nothing wrong with a man who has fallen from grace, asked for forgiveness and says he has repented of such action to be a criteria for disallowing him utterance if he is going to share a testimony of faith (and I have no idea what Newt talked about…haven’t listened to the clip, yet). That said, I find it more appalling to hear of sermons about “seeing things” and “real marriage’s promotion of sodomy” in Baptist colleges and seminaries, and pulpits.

    • February 27, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      Hariette,

      I absolutely believe in the power of personal testimonies of God’s grace and that Mr. Gingrich should share how God has forgiven him and restored him in and through the amazing grace of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Of course, I don’t think it was the appropriate time to do this nine days before the Georgia Republican Presidential Primary on a Sunday morning when Newt Gingrich is still a candidate running for office (same with Rick Santorum the week before). That being said, my student pastor and I just finished a discussion regarding the pastor (who shall remain nameless) who has visions and promotes what he calls “real marriage.” I agree with your last statement completely! Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

  6. February 27, 2012 at 5:14 PM

    You were right. You finally showed up on the blogroll around 5 or 6 my time.

  7. Bill Mac
    February 27, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    This was not testimony time at a revival. This was a campaign stop, pure and simple. This church is opening its pulpit for political campaigns. I wonder how many SBC churches are inviting Roman Catholics to share their pulpits who aren’t Republican presidential candidates?

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