NASHVILLE—Newly elected Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear addressed topics ranging from the #MeToo crisis to politics and evangelicals in a recent interview with NPR, one of his first since taking the role.
In an interview with Rachel Martin of NPR's Morning Edition, Greear said that even though evangelical Christians may appear to have a "restless conscience right now," that restlessness has the potential to usher in healthy self-evaluation and repentance.
"It's broken my heart what's happened with Dr. Patterson and just the way that that's happened," he said when asked about what some have referred to as Southern Baptists' #MeToo movement. Paige Patterson, who was fired May 30 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been the flashpoint of that movement in recent weeks for the alleged mishandling of reported sexual assault in the past and comments he's made about physical abuse and women's appearance.
But Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said he believes the open conversation in the convention "has helped raise awareness that sometimes there's been hesitancy to listen to the victim when you should have listened to the victim."
Abuse is illegal and should never be handled internally, Greear said. If nothing else, he said he is grateful the situation "has helped raise the awareness of the conversation" of what to do when someone comes forward and says he or she has been a victim of abuse—especially when the alleged abuser is "someone else you know and love and trust."
"There are wise ways to handle this," Greear said.
During the interview, Martin also asked the SBC president what he thought about some evangelical Christians choosing to shed the identity of "evangelical" because of all the political meaning "baked into" that title in recent years.
"That's certainly understandable, they can do that, but that's not the path I have chosen," Greear said. "What we need is not a change in label, what we need is a change of heart, a change in values."
Evangelicals can take the criticism of outsiders and let it drive them to "say, 'hey, here are some inconsistencies and we need to repent,'" Greear said. "Thank God ... that God doesn't accept us based on how perfectly we've lived, He accepts us based on His grace."
That's the central message of evangelical Christianity, he said—that those who follow Christ repent of their imperfections, rely on grace and invite others to join them.
Evangelical Christians have much they can unite around—biblical values like helping the poor or caring for the vulnerable, he said. But when it comes to what the government's role is in those things, "there's certainly room for disagreement among Christians."
"I think one of the things that there's some concern over is have evangelical Christians taken their central message—which is supposed to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ—and have they encumbered that with too much specificity about political positions for which there really is room for people of faith to disagree," Greear said.
A number of Southern Baptists took to social media to express their convictions about that blurred line between faith and political viewpoints after Vice President Mike Pence's speech at the SBC's annual meeting June 13. The day before, Marshal Ausberry of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., had brought a motion asking that the convention stop inviting elected officials to speak at the annual meeting. SBC messengers referred the motion to the convention's Executive Committee for consideration and a report to the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
After Pence's speech, Greear addressed the issue in a tweet: "I know that sent a terribly mixed signal. We are grateful for civic leaders who want to speak to our Convention—but make no mistake about it, our identity is in the gospel and our unity is in the Great Commission. Commissioned missionaries, not political platforms, are what we do."
Though Pence told messengers about his own faith journey as part of his speech, Greear told NPR that Southern Baptists' identity shouldn't be intertwined with the Republican Party.
"There are certain things on the Republican platform that Republicans have championed that evangelical Christians have identified (with)," he said. "However, we need to decouple the identity of the church from particular political platforms about which there can be disagreement."
Also on the topic of faith and politics intertwined, Martin asked Greear how he felt about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' use of Bible verses to defend the zero-tolerance policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Greear responded that though he is grateful to hear of people attempting to interact with Scripture, just because the Bible is quoted, it doesn't mean the person is "giving the full context of it or representing the full biblical message."
"I mean, yes, the Bible does teach the submission to authority," he said, but he noted that he has also "tried to be clear with this immigration question that we recognize that there is a certain charitable nature in passing laws and upholding them."
Separating families "in the name of enforcing an immigration policy seems like much too harsh a punishment" for anyone caught breaking that law, he said. (BP)