If you’ve been following Southern Baptist news, you know about the uproar that was cast by the SBC inviting Seventh Day Adventist, Dr. Ben Carson, to speak at the 2015 Pastor’s Conference. Aside from the serious theological differences that sets Southern Baptists apart from Seventh Day Adventists, it was also widely seen as an endorsement of a political candidate. In the wake of this massive outcry, a follow-up opinion was written at SBC Voices blog by Dave Matthews, basically stating that he disagreed with decision to invite Carson, but since it’s already done, for the sake of avoiding bad press, we should just shut up about it, accept it, and have lunch together.
In the heat of all of this back and forth between Southern Baptists, a surprise announcement was made by Willy Rice, president of the 2015 Pastor’s Conference, and responsible party for the decision to invite Dr. Carson to begin with, stating that he and Dr. Carson had come to “a mutual agreement” not to address the Conference this year. Rice states their reason for the mutual decision is because they didn’t want it to become a distraction.
. . . it has become clear to both Dr. Carson’s team and to me that Dr. Carson’s appearance could create an unnecessary distraction for us both. When I first invited Dr. Carson he was not a declared candidate for President. It now appears likely that he will announce his candidacy and, though he has never held political office nor to my knowledge engaged in a political campaign, many have voiced their objections at having a declared candidate speak at our conference.
Willy Rice here is trying to gracefully cover his obvious slip-up. He really botched this up by inviting Dr. Carson, and had no idea he was going to get the public backlash that he got. Mr. Rice knows full well that the majority of the outcry wasn’t simply because a political candidate was asked to speak, but because someone who doesn’t affirm the basic doctrines of the Christian faith would be addressing pastors, who are supposed to be held to a high standard of theological clarity. In other words, the very ones who should be standing up and preaching the Gospel to Dr. Carson, calling him to repentance and faith, were instead going to sit back and listen to a political speech on how to address spiritual issues, from a political standpoint, while disagreeing on the only solution to these problems–the Gospel.
Yet Mr. Rice minimizes the differences between Dr. Carson’s false belief system, and ours, by stating “Dr. Carson is a great American hero and a man who boldly and publicly professes his faith in Christ. Those closest to him, including several Southern Baptists, know him to be a man of unimpeachable character and deep faith.” Apparently Mr. Rice thinks that as long as someone has “deep faith,” they should be accepted, even if their faith is in a false Christ, and he makes it clear that he still disagrees with those of us who opposed his appearance. Does Mr. Rice not know that the SDA Christ is a different Christ? The SDA Church teaches that Jesus was Michael the Archangel. This is pure heresy, and cannot be accepted under any circumstances to be the same Jesus that Baptists proclaim–Jesus of the Bible. Rice continues:
Yet, over the last few days several Southern Baptist voices have expressed their opposition to his invitation. Their concerns are both theological and political. As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Dr. Carson is publicly identified with theological positions that differ from those of Southern Baptists. 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.
So while admitting that their are “some” theological differences, he continues to make this about politics, rather than address the real concerns people had with his appearance. Why does Mr. Rice think that the Pastor’s Conference is the time, or the place, for our denomination’s pastors to be sitting around listening to political speeches from unbelievers? I really have seen very little, if any, real support for this, yet he makes it sound like there was a major divide between “us” and “them.” Disagreeing on “some points of doctrine” is one thing. Disagreeing on infant baptism, or church structure is not a dividing issue, but Mr. Rice, disagreeing on who Jesus Christ is, is absolutely critical. If we can’t agree with Mr. Carson on who Christ is, and the true Gospel, then we cannot agree with Mr. Carson on the solution to problems, which is the Gospel.
But Mr. Rice wants to make sure that we all know that unity is more important than our differences. Therefore, for the sake of “unity” and “clear agreement” he disagreeingly backs off from his position, and drops Mr. Carson from the conference.
I have watched over the last year as our Southern Baptist President, Dr. Ronnie Floyd has worked as tirelessly as any person I have ever seen to call our convention to clear agreement, visible unity and extraordinary prayer. Clear agreement. Visible unity. He has worked too hard and too much is at stake for us to be sidetracked from that worthy call. While I don’t agree with those who have voiced their opposition to this invitation, I have heard and respect their concerns and for the sake of unity we have reached a mutual decision with Dr. Carson’s team to forgo his appearance at our Pastors’ Conference.
I am sad that Dr. Carson will not speak at our conference, but I am willing to sacrifice what some may want for the greater unity of our Southern Baptist family. I must decrease and He must increase; it’s the theme of our conference and perhaps this is an opportunity to model it.
But, while still strongly disagreeing with us, and being “saddened” by this “mutual decision,” Mr. Rice has made it clear that he is the good guy in this whole “misunderstanding” by sacrificing what “some may want” for the greater unity. Mr. Rice, if you really believed that it was the right thing to have Dr. Carson speak at the event, then you shouldn’t have dropped him. But the truth is, Mr. Rice realized that he was wrong, yet wanted to make it look like he didn’t make a mistake, by making this to be about something that it isn’t–politics. He says “To my friends who believe that we should avoid all political involvements, I must respectfully disagree.” But again, the truth is he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get away with having a border-line cult member speak to our denomination’s leaders, and he’s covering his tracks by distracting from the real issue.
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