Likely Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference have “mutually agreed” that Carson will not address the Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio, as previously scheduled.
“We didn't want this to become a distraction for our convention,” Pastors’ Conference President William Rice told Baptist Press. “A number of people began to write about it and express their views on it, and it threatened to become a distraction we never wanted it to be. We felt like for the health of the convention, the health of the Pastors’ Conference … the better thing to do was to mutually agree it’s not the right time to do it.”
Carson, a cultural commentator and professor emeritus of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, was scheduled to address the Pastors’ Conference on June 14 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. But some Southern Baptists raised theological and political concerns in late March and April, with Texas pastor Bart Barber and Baptist21, a network of younger Southern Baptist leaders, posting blog articles objecting to Carson’s scheduled appearance.
Barber is a former SBC first vice president and current Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Among the concerns cited were that Carson’s appearance could be construed as an endorsement of his presumed presidential campaign, that his appearance could be construed as an endorsement of the Republican Party and that it would be inappropriate for a member of a Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) – the religious group with which Carson identifies – to address the Pastors’ Conference.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, according to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) 4truth.net website, is “in basic agreement with historic, biblical Christianity. Thus, the SDA is not a cult by definition. However, the SDA can be correctly regarded as a Christian sect because it has a number of distinctive doctrines not in accord with the mainstream of historic Christian faith.”
Among the “distinctive” doctrines referenced by NAMB, the SDA believes Christians who worship on Sunday are in error and “often implies that certain outward acts of righteousness are necessary to maintain one’s assurance of salvation.”
In a blog post published April 24, Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., addressed concerns regarding Carson’s affiliation with Seventh-day Adventists. Rice’s complete blog post is at calvary.us/pastorwillysblog.
“As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Dr. Carson is publicly identified with theological positions that differ from those of Southern Baptists,” Rice wrote. “While this is true, I believed, and still believe, that leaders gathered for our Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference are open to listening to persons from outside our denomination. I believe most are willing to hear from national leaders even if we disagree on some points of doctrine as we have done in the past, particularly when the point of the discussion is a biblical worldview of prevailing cultural issues.”
Rice told BP that Carson’s appearance was never intended to be a political endorsement and Carson understood that. Pastors’ Conference leaders “felt like [Carson] could speak about public issues and the larger national issues going on culturally, but do so in a decidedly apolitical way as a guy whose career has not been in politics,” Rice said.
Rice’s blog post “respectfully disagree[d]” with those who believe Southern Baptists “should avoid all political involvements.”
“While I know of no Southern Baptist leader who believes our answer is found in a political party or political solution, there are times when we must be engaged in the public arena,” Rice wrote. “John the Baptist was not jailed for preaching the Gospel. He was jailed for speaking truth to power. Southern Baptists cannot and should not back away from appropriate engagement in political life.
“If Southern Baptists will not speak, then who will?” Rice continued. “In these current days where Christian brothers are being butchered overseas and religious liberties are under assault at home, will we stay silent out of some misguided attempt to avoid politics altogether? I pray not. Political leaders who stand for religious liberty, speak out for the oppressed and have the strength of moral convictions should know they have a friend in Southern Baptists.”
Rice asked those offended by the invitation of Carson to “show forbearance and forgiveness” and affirmed SBC President Ronnie Floyd’s emphasis on “visible unity” and “extraordinary prayer” for this year’s SBC annual meeting. Floyd “has worked too hard and too much is at stake for us to be sidetracked from that worthy call,” Rice said.
No replacement speaker for Carson has been announced.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)