Opposition to Pence’s Speech at Southern Baptist Convention Signals Shift in Denomination’s Relationship With Politics

When Vice President Pence late Wednesday morning addresses one of the country’s biggest Christian gatherings — the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting — he’ll be following a decades-long line of White House Republicans who have come to speak to the right-leaning group.

Which is why experts on conservative Christianity were wowed by the sight Tuesday of multiple Southern Baptist pastors trying — through the meeting’s formal procedures — to block Pence’s talk, or at least to pass a ban on inviting politicians to future annual meetings. Video of the Dallas convention hall showed many hundreds of hands holding yellow ballots go up when a Virginia pastor argued that hosting a Trump administration official hurts Southern Baptists of color and endangers soul-saving in general.

None of the four separate measures passed (a few were referred for consideration in the coming year). But historians say the effort was the first real controversy in the convention about a GOP speaker since the evangelist Billy Graham pushed for the invite of President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and reveals the significant upheaval among conservative evangelicals about President Trump and the mixing of partisan politics and religion.

“For 35 years you could expect the Southern Baptist Convention to be pro-Republican in a nearly unanimous way. But 2016 means the relationship with the Republican Party for the Southern Baptist Convention has become problematic,” said Thomas Kidd, a history professor at Baylor University who has written books about American evangelicalism.

The convention is a major force in conservative evangelicalism and is the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

Specifically what this development means, Kidd said, “is hard to say. But it signals that business as usual as far as [giving a platform to] Republican politicians — there will be pushback against that in a way there wasn’t.”

The question is whether the divide within evangelicalism will lead to different religious affiliation patterns, or different voting patterns, or something else — or nothing.

“What makes this unique is the amount of turmoil around the present administration, which has heightened all the fault lines so many of us feel, around racial reconciliation, and clarity about what Christians are about, which is Jesus and him dying for sinners,” said Garrett Kell, of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.

Kell proposed a measure Tuesday morning that didn’t pass that would have replaced Pence on the agenda with a time of prayer. No vote count was taken, but many in the convention hall estimated just by looking that 30 to 40 percent of attendees had voted for Kell’s measure.

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SOURCE: Michelle Boorstein
The Washington Post