The presidential election of 2016 is just around the corner, and seemingly every day some other so-and-so from somewhere is announcing their intention to become the next commander-in-chief. While both sides of the aisle have seen their share of clean, articulate candidates announce, the Democrats are still waiting to see if Joe Biden will stand up, and the Republicans are wondering what to expect from popular “grass-roots conservative” underdog Dr. Ben Carson.
Dr. Carson, who officially announced his intention to run for president on May 4 at a press conference in his hometown of Detroit, has an amazing life story. He overcame an early life of poverty to become at age 33 the youngest major division director in Johns Hopkins Hospital history.
He was the first pediatric neurosurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. He wrote a best-selling book about his life titled Gifted Hands which was later made into a movie of the same title featuring actor Cuba Gooding Jr. in the lead role. A presidential nomination would seem to simply be icing on the cake of Dr. Carson’s successful life journey.
But movies, books, and presidential announcements aside, Dr. Carson recently made news for another reason. Back in March, Dr. Carson received an invitation to speak at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors’ Conference, which he promptly accepted. Less than a month later, after some low-key controversy, Dr. Carson was uninvited and removed from the Pastors’ Conference speakers’ list. The blow-back against Dr. Carson by some members of the SBC was for religious and theological reasons, not political ones. You see, Dr. Ben Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist.
Though it probably sounds mean-spirited and bigoted, and at the risk of offending all lovers of big ecumenical group hugs, I believe that this time the Southern Baptists got it right. The reason I feel this way is not because I don’t like Dr. Carson. It’s not because I don’t think that he’s a viable presidential candidate. It’s not because I don’t appreciate his candid remarks at last year’s National Prayer Breakfast, and it’s not because I don’t agree with his espoused views on a variety of issues, from abortion to marriage. I believe it was right for Pastors’ Conference organizers to rescind their invitation because as a Seventh-day Adventist, Dr. Ben Carson has markedly different views than Southern Baptists when it comes to the Gospel. Having Dr. Carson speak at the Pastors’ Conference would, in my opinion, send the message that political agreement is more important than Gospel truth – a message that is not only false, but is eternally dangerous.
One reason why I am particularly encouraged by the rescinding of Dr. Carson’s invitation is because Southern Baptists have recently shown themselves very willing to minimize theological differences for the sake of political expediency. You might remember how, during the 2012 presidential campaign, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed Mormonism from its website’s list of religious cults after Republican presidential candidate and practicing Mormon Mitt Romney personally visited with Rev. Billy Graham and his son Franklin. Or maybe you were watching via C-SPAN back in 2010 when practicing Mormon Glenn Beck held that “Restoring Honor” rally at the National Mall in Washington D.C. where he urged the re-creation of a “black robe regiment,” and where Southern Baptists like Richard Land and James Dobson stood on the stage and joined hands with Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams for the sake of “conservative values”. And these are just two of the more well-known examples of political pandering at the expense of Gospel truth.
The point is not that Christians can never or should never vote for anyone whose theology differs from theirs. The point is that we can never, should never, must never water down or compromise our convictions concerning the truth of the Gospel for the sake of partisan politics. Believers are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God, and we must remember that the most basic need that men and women, boys and girls have is not affordable health care or lower taxes, but the need to have their sins forgiven. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had to remind the Jewish leaders who criticized His followers for breaking the Sabbath law that “something greater than the temple is here.” I applaud Southern Baptists for remembering that something greater than the Republican Party is here. We would all do well to remember the same.
Kevin Sartin is pastor of First Baptist Church on Main St. in Nashville. Rev. Sartin holds a Master of Divinity Degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and has spent the last decade pastoring churches in Louisiana and Arkansas.