Hi and welcome back! A few days ago while recuperating, I tippy-tapped out some thoughts about hypocrisy on my tablet, intending to talk the next week about it. Then, just a couple days ago, we got the news that Mike Stone is suing one of his brothers in Christ, Russell Moore. Talk about timing! I guess the takeaway here is that when anyone discusses hypocrisy, toxic Christians are right there to give us au courant examples. Today, I’ll show you why this lawsuit reveals a deep well of hypocrisy in Mike Stone, and why that matters.
(In this post, I criticize an evangelical leader for suing another evangelical leader. In reality, I think that lawsuits can be a great way to remedy damages. However, the Bible expressly forbids Christians from utilizing this remedy against each other. So this is their rules, not the real world’s rules, that one of them is breaking.)
Everyone, Meet Mike Stone.
Russell Moore left the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) not long ago. Before that, he led a subgroup within the SBC called the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). During that time, he demonstrated repeatedly that he took all the evangelical Jesus rules seriously — which I’m sure horrified his fellow big-name leaders. He constantly went off-message and off-brand, requiring come-to-Jesus meetings (like this one) to get him reined in again.
Eventually, the SBC’s more hypocritical hardliners succeeded in hounding Moore out of the ERLC and the SBC alike. One of those hardliners was Mike Stone, who at the time acted as the elected chairman of the SBC’s Executive Committee (EC). His term ended in 2020, after which he wrote a cringey fail-train of a letter trying to gaslight and silence his detractors. He remains very active in power-seeking.
Mike Stone also leads the Conservative Baptist Network. That’s a group of SBC members who somehow think the SBC is way too liberal. As you might guess, then, Mike Stone is an ultra-authoritarian evangelical himself. And oh, he is an ambitious one even by their alarming parameters. That means the SBC needs to become a lot more conservative than it already is. If it stays as-is (or worse, actually gets less dysfunctional by instituting systemic reforms to address its dealbreaking problems), then he’ll never get elected to the top jobs.
In my opinion, Mike Stone values his own ambitions far, far above resolving the denomination’s problems, protecting the vulnerable among the flocks, and seeking justice for the many victims of SBC leaders’ abuse.
In fact, Mike Stone ran for president of the SBC at its most recent Annual Meeting. He lost to Ed Litton.
But he blames his loss on Russell Moore.
Why Mike Stone Hates Russell Moore SO MUCH.
As I mentioned, Mike Stone and his faction have harassed Russell Moore for years. You can get a good sense of the long years of bad blood between Stone and Moore here.
See, Moore has some ideas about how the SBC should handle its rampant sex-abuse and racism crises that Mike Stone’s circle of pals (an SBC faction I’ve come to call the “Old Guard,” which very much includes his pal Ronnie Floyd) don’t like at all. Also, Moore’s on record as not liking Donald Trump or the rising wave of Trumpism in evangelicalism. Thus, he became the Old Guard’s enemy.
Eventually, the Old Guard got its way. Russell Moore left the SBC, quitting his ERLC job entirely.
But before he left, and very shortly before the SBC’s big Annual Meeting this past summer, Moore released a pair of letters outlining the incredible sexism and racism he’d witnessed in his peers over the years. Perhaps most importantly, the letters reveal that some high-ranking members of the EC (and coincidentally, Old Guard stalwarts) were trying very hard to stymie and block sex-abuse investigations and reforms.
Though Moore didn’t specifically name Mike Stone, he did make allusions enough for careful readers to know that yes, Mike Stone was indeed one of the hypocrites under discussion.
Well, Moore released his letters just before the SBC’s presidential election. Stone thinks maybe they had something to do with his loss.
So he’s suing his fellow Christian in court, according to Religion News Service. He hopes to get at least USD$750k in damages. The charges: defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
My, my. Christian-on-Christian lawsuit action? Isn’t that interesting.
The Bible has a few things to say about this topic.
1 Corinthians 6 Enters the Chat.
In 1 Corinthians 6 (that’s “One Corinthian 6” for the Trump-addled out there), we find Paul criticizing the practice in the early church of Christians suing each other in court. Please allow me the liberty of quoting the relevant part, because we’ll be referring back to it in a moment:
If any of you has a grievance against another, how dare he go to law before the unrighteous instead of before the saints! Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? [. . .]
So if you need to settle everyday matters, do you appoint as judges those of no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Is there really no one among you wise enough to arbitrate between his brothers? Instead, one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers!
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you are thoroughly defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, even against your own brothers!
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? [Source]
The actual page where I got this quote puts that last sentence into the next section. However, in my opinion it fits very well as the endcap to the lawsuit sermon.
(BTW, it’s entirely possible that Paul — or at least the man we’ve identified as such centuries later — did write 1 Corinthians. La Wiki thinks he had a co-author, Sosthenes, who wrote down the book from Paul’s dictation.)
Rules for Thee, Not for Mike Stone.
Mike Stone styles himself an ultra-conservative, ultra-hardcore fundagelical who knows exactly how to Jesus. So yes, absolutely, he knows about this bit of the Bible. According to that Religion News Service article, he’s even preached those verses at his church:
In the past, Stone has discouraged his congregation from suing other Christians.
“Let’s say somebody defames your character with unfounded gossip,” he said in a January 2018 sermon titled “Stop Airing Your Dirty Laundry Part 1.”
“The legal thing to do and I’m not just talking about a lawsuit, I mean the understandable natural thing to do might be to defend your name. The godly thing might be let it go.” [Source]
But he can’t let it go when it happens to him.
He blames Russell Moore for keeping his grubby hands off the president’s crown. And as an authoritarian, when he feels thwarted he will rush to use literally any and every weapon he can get — street-legal or not.
It doesn’t matter if the Apostle Paul himself said not to sue other believers in court.
It wouldn’t even matter if Jesus himself had said it in the Gospels.
Suddenly, the very rules he’s laid out for his church don’t apply to him.
Court exists as a remedy for injury, and so Mike Stone will use it even though his magic holy book says not to do that.
(With this kind of hypocrisy in their leader, I’m betting Mike Stone’s church is an absolute nightmare of infighting, backbiting, gossip, and power-grabs.)
Why Paul Didn’t Like Christian-on-Christian Lawsuits.
In that bit of Bible I quoted above, we see why Paul had an issue with Christian-on-Christian lawsuits.
- Paul thought it distasteful for Christians to submit themselves to “the unrighteous” to resolve their disputes, especially given that one day, he thought, Christians would be judging the entire world. How could the world’s judges not manage to judge themselves?
- He also thought that these lawsuits demonstrated that the Christians involved had nobody within their groups who could resolve their disputes. In other words, it made them look foolish, ungoverned, and unwise.
- Christian-on-Christian lawsuits hurt recruitment efforts and retention as well. Such legal wrangling exposed the truth about Christians. It revealed that they were not actually wonderful people full of Jesus Power who loved everybody.
- Worst, in his opinion perhaps, such lawsuits revealed that the Christians involved were “thoroughly defeated already.” In his opinion, the Christians who felt wronged should just resign themselves to being cheated or hard-done-by. What happened to enduring all things and going to their own slaughter with a smile?
- At the end, Paul complains that such lawsuits also reveal that Christians commit constant wrongdoing against each other.
Ignoring the supernatural blahblah, that’s actually an accurate read of how outsiders perceive these lawsuits.
Hey, the Bible’s not wrong about everything.
However, Mike Stone doesn’t care about how this lawsuit will look to us heathens. He’s been injured and thwarted.
Blood screams for blood.
Why This Lawsuit Matters.
Mike Stone, in ignoring his own preaching — not to mention his own god’s express command to Christians — reveals the truth about his religion. It’s just window-dressing for his ambitions and desires — as well as the easiest way for him to achieve his dreams.
When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (around 53-54 CE), Christianity had not come anywhere near achieving its leaders’ ultimate dreams of power. They were still scrabbling for every single convert, then largely failing to keep those converts’ butts in the proto-pews. (1 John 2:18-19, written between 95-110 CE, reveals that that last part was still a problem long after Paul’s death.)
Thus, public relations was a big screamin’ deal to the earliest Christian leaders. If people (correctly) perceived that Christians were a bunch of rabble-rousers and lawbreakers, foolish and misguided, arguing constantly even with each other and mistreating anyone they could, then they would not sign up to join Christian groups. If nothing else, a sense of self-preservation would keep prospective recruits far away.
Well, Christian leaders find themselves in much the same place today. They lack the coercive power they had once. That power kept butts in pews and scandals silenced. Without it, people are free to evaluate Christians on their own merits.
And that evaluation will not look good for hypocritical Christians like Mike Stone, who wield their Bibles like hammers and cudgels on others while actively disobeying its commands the moment things get inconvenient for themselves.
NEXT UP: The red flag of hypocrisy. We’ll also dive into how hypocritical Christians are hand-waving away this direct order from the Bible, because I found a bunch of them making excuses for Mike Stone, and I thought they were hilariously lacking in self-awareness.
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