paint that gate!
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Jonathan Borba.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Of late, we’ve been talking about the so-called Sermongate scandal of Ed Litton, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). See, he reused sermons from J.D. Greear without attributing his source. In the various reactions to this mini-scandal that we’ve seen, possibly the worst hot takes of all come from his political enemies in evangelicalism: the Old Guard, whose members work to make the SBC even more regressive, racist, misogynistic, and cruel than it already is. Indeed, their reaction to Sermongate reveals a seriously misplaced set of priorities. Today, let’s check out their reaction — and see how they destroy their own claims to possessing a superior set of morals and ethics over all other flavors of Christianity.

paint that gate!
(Jonathan Borba.)

(Ed Litton and J.D. Greear are the major players in the Pretend Progressive faction. Their faction acts like it wants real reform in the SBC, but somehow they never, ever get their plans to fruition. The Old Guard are hardline extremists. They think the Conservative Resurgence did not go nearly far enough. Al Mohler is one of their major players. There’s also a subfaction of Old Guard that’s even more extremist. It’s ruled by Mike Stone and some other big names, mostly Calvinists. Neither side wants anything to change, just one side’s more vocal about that desire.)

The Old Guard’s Superior Romulan Weaponry.

Back in college, we used to joke about the winner of any conflict having “superior Romulan weaponry.” Yeah, we were all nerds. So when I think about the Old Guard faction of the SBC, that’s the phrase that comes to mind when I see them fighting with their enemies.

For example, Mike Stone — one of the big-name leaders in the extra-hardline Old Guard subfaction — wrote a letter responding to Russell Moore’s incendiary accusations of racism and misogyny in the SBC. In it, Stone makes a few points crystal-clear:

  • Mike Stone represents the only “real” SBC that exists. All other factions’ leaders are fake Christians who have no idea how to Jesus.
  • If Mike Stone has not personally heard other SBC leaders acting like misogynists and racists, then nobody in SBC leadership ever has. So, Russell Moore’s complaint is invalid.
  • Russell Moore does not Jesus correctly at all, which is why he has committed these egregious wrongs against TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like Mike Stone.
  • Obviously, Russell Moore’s lack of proper Jesus-ing has led him to a disquieted spirit that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ would find completely unfamiliar.

The end of his letter is quite telling. He writes:

My prayer is that his new place of service outside the SBC will lead him to a better and more peaceful place personally and professionally.

Yeah, I’m sure he’s totally praying for that. Yep. Totally.

In every single thing I have ever seen out of this subfaction of the Old Guard, they try to make clear that their style of Jesus-ing is the only correct style — and that other styles lead to bad ends for both their practitioners and the SBC as a whole.

Their Jesus-ing is superior Romulan weaponry. Everything else is just a light.

(“Keeping one’s metaphors unmixed A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.)

When Correctness Underlies Priorities.

In authoritarian minds, correctness underlies all of their priorities. Things must be done thus-and-such way, or disaster is sure to follow. And there aren’t many more authoritarian flavors of Christianity than modern evangelicals.

It wasn’t always quite this way.

Long ago, evangelicals were a really different breed than fundamentalists. Fundamentalists got completely hung up on orthodoxy. That term means an emphasis on correct beliefs. And that was me, back when I was Pentecostal.

Like most of my fundamentalist friends, I really and truly thought that just believing the wrong things could land people in Hell! My evangelical friends, by contrast, didn’t get my weird obsession with orthodoxy. We argued a lot about it.

Well, now evangelicals have fused with fundamentalists to become fundagelicals. And they are hung up on orthodoxy.

Worse, they’ve combined it with fundamentalists’ orthopraxy, which is an emphasis on correct practices.

Watch any fight between Christians. You will soon notice that what they’re really arguing about is orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

And Now, the Misplaced Priorities of the Old Guard.

Recently, we got treated to an Old Guard hardliner blog, Reformation Charlotte, making a proclamation about Sermongate. Here’s what their writer had to say about it:

Reformation Charlotte has uncovered yet another entire sermon that Ed Litton plagiarized from JD Greear–down to even the prayer at the beginning–in what amounts to nothing less than one of the greatest scandals the Southern Baptist Convention has ever faced in its entire history.

Wow. Seriously?

Yes.

Fellow hardliner blog Capstone Report liked that quote so much they reprinted it in their own writeup of Sermongate — with loving endorsement of it.

In fact, both blogs’ writers think this scandal is so important that resolving it will require Ed Litton to both apologize and resign his presidency and his pastor position at his church.

Why Sermongate Figures So High in These Guys’ Priorities.

And why is this scandal so important? Well, Reformation Charlotte tells us immediately after that proclamation:

As the mantra at the SBC annual meeting went, “the world is watching.” Indeed it is–and they are mocking us right now.

So this is “one of the greatest scandals” the SBC has ever faced because it’s bringing mockery down on Southern Baptists’ heads.

That’s what incorrect practice and belief gets you, everyone! MOCKERY!

It’s the one thing authoritarians absolutely cannot stand, so I can understand why it figures so high in ultra-authoritarians’ priorities. But it’s still staggeringly inappropriate.

More Inappropriate Priorities, Displayed.

We can take a few guesses about their other priorities. For example, here’s the “trigger the libs” mentality on full display:

No doubt, this [Paige Patterson] endorsement of both Republican President Donald Trump and First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress will trigger the Russell Moore faction of the Southern Baptist Convention.

So, well done to both Dr. Patterson and Dr. Jeffress. [Capstone Report, 2019]

And this, from Reformation Charlotte regarding Paige Patterson. They don’t like his “rabid anti-Calvinist and anti-Reformed rhetoric,” so he definitely “needed to go.” But they’re very upset with why he got fired:

Now that he’s out, and most of his retirement benefits stripped, it’s safe to say that the lynching of this man in the name of social justice has effectively altered the course of Southwestern for the foreseeable future. [Reformation Charlotte, 2019]

Yep, you saw that right. Someone there compared firing a vile hypocrite for abusing sex-assault victims and acting like a weirdo sex pest to a lynching.

The Scandal Lineup I’d Offer These Old Guard Hardliners.

I mean, if you asked me what the SBC’s greatest hits in scandals are, I’d have a lot to suggest for the lineup:

  • Abuse of Faith,” which turned up many hundreds of pastoral sex-abuse victims in the SBC.
  • This scandal also revealed a pattern of systemic cover-up and hand-waving that reached to all levels of SBC leadership.
  • The SBC’s singular inability to address that scandal two years later — or even to act like they really care about resolving it.
  • Almost all of the biggest-name architects of the SBC’s Conservative Resurgence turned out to be predators of various kinds. (And I’m being generous with that “almost all.”)
  • Russell Moore’s leaked allegations revealed high-level leaders acting like sexist, racist pigs.
  • Paige Patterson had a long pattern of mistreating sex assault victims at his seminary.
  • Oh, and that stuff is probably happening at other SBC seminaries too. It’s even more likely because Al Mohler himself, another Old Guard (but not extremist) leader and seminary president, professes utter ignorance of sex abuse in the denomination.
  • The SBC embraced of Donald Trump. This affiliation has destroyed its credibility and wrecked its recruitment levels for years to come — just as many anti-Trump evangelical leaders feared it would.

But sure, go off, Old Guard extremists.

Tell us that Ed Litton swiping sermons belongs with the other stuff on that list.

And then wonder why your religion is in such steep decline.

Yes, it must be the immorality of sin leading their enemies to resist such superior Romulan weaponry.

That must be it. It deffo can’t be anything else. Deffo.

What Misplaced Priorities Mean.

Christians, particularly evangelicals, talk a lot about misplaced priorities. Typically and of course, they blame misplaced priorities on sin. Therefore, correct Jesus-ing will solve that problem (and every other problem Christians face on both an individual and systemic level — like racism).

However, all Christians completely believe that they hold correct beliefs and beliefs-about-practice. It’s a popular pastime in right-wing Christendom to claim that one doesn’t Jesus as hard as one should, sure. But you’ll never hear a Christian say that their general beliefs about correct orthopraxy are incorrect or insufficient.

Thus, very few of them realize that they themselves hold misplaced priorities too. This situation with Sermongate definitely represents one of those misplaced priorities.

When I see such breathtakingly misplaced priorities, the first thing I wonder is how their holders got so broken, their potential so absolutely destroyed, that they could even go there. I start to wonder how they treat sex-abuse victims in their own church. I wonder if they shield abusers too, or even commit abuse themselves, so they just see abuse as an endemic “gravity problem” that all evangelical groups deal with all the time.

Like, do they just not know that sex abuse > plagiarism? Do they not realize that most people will be horrified at the notion of putting plagiarism on the same shelf as years of entrenched, systemic cover-up of assaults on children?

Apparently not!

Misplaced Priorities and Meeting Goals.

The problem goes further than that, though. When we lose sight of what’s really important, it’s very easy to get sidetracked.

Misplaced priorities can mean a determined (if sometimes subconscious) attempt to distract oneself from stuff one knows one should be doing. Most of us know this feeling. It’s the drive we sometimes get to clean out our closets the night before a big test, or to go out partying when we know we must wake up early the next day. We can get scared, resentful, and even overwhelmed by what we need to do. So we might set up other priorities to pursue instead. These priorities function as substitutes for what we absolutely need to do.

Misplaced priorities can happen when we get busy, too. When money’s tight or make-or-break deadlines loom, we can get intensely focused on earning money. In that mindset, we might even neglect their most important relationships. Hopefully, our loved ones can cut us some slack if it’s necessary or figure out ways to stay connected. But it’s not always possible.

We can check that our priorities are placed correctly by comparing our progress with our goals. But evangelicals can’t do that. They long ago lost the ability to self-correct on the basis of meeting their stated goals. They’re used to having goals that they’ll never, ever meet. (And covert goals as well.) Oh sure, they set big lofty goals all the time. But when they utterly fail to meet those goals, they never look back at their methods with an eye toward modifying them to better meet their goals. They just go: Oh well! Guess we failed again! — and then set even loftier goals.

So knowing all this, I start wondering what evangelicals are trying so hard to distract themselves from with their priorities set this way.

The Whole Point of Christianity (Can’t Be Set For All Christians).

For a while now, I’ve seen accusations lobbed at increasingly-fundamentalist evangelicals that they’re focusing so tightly on orthodoxy and orthopraxy that they’re forgetting what Christianity is supposed to be about in the first place.

Personally, I’d be inclined to agree. That said, I know that Christianity is a mess. There’s really not any way to set a “supposed to be about” for all believers.

For everyone like me who thinks there’s a best-case scenario of Christianity involving charity and compassion, there are probably at least two Christians who think the opposite. That’s where hardliners live. They think that this “best case” Christianity is totally fake and their own authoritarian, totalitarian, tribalistic, rules-obsessed, cruelty-inflicting, -ism addled, conspiracy-theory afflicted, boundary-destroying form of the religion is the real deal.

And we’d all have good reasons, all derived from the same sourcebook, for our various opinions.

Priorities Reflect Yet Another Dealbreaker.

To me, that’s just one of the many dealbreakers in their religion:

The more focused on orthodoxy and orthopraxy Christians get, the worse and less loving their priorities look to others.

When believers focus on becoming more-hardcore-than-thou, they so often turn into monsters. Abuse runs rampant in their groups as more and more abusers sneak into positions of power — and then set up shop under everyone else’s noses. The group is so focused on Jesus-ing perfectly that they miss any red flags those abusers wave.

Because their central mechanisms simply don’t work, such laser-focused groups can’t identify or eject those abusers — even if they wanted to try to do it. Meeting members’ needs and ensuring their safety just takes a complete back seat to advancing their group’s interests and protecting their leaders from the repercussions of their abusive ways.

That’s why hardliners’ sense of what’s important just seems so surreal to everyone else.

And it’s just going to get worse, I suspect, as evangelicals continue to polarize and politicize.

NEXT UP: 1st-Century Friday! We’ll be looking at Livy and his later writings. Then, I want to show you that explosive new PRRI survey. See you then!


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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...