AUSTIN—Several pastors and public policy experts evaluated the outcomes of the November election and considered the response churches and Christians should have in the midst of a polarized and sometimes hostile American society, during the 9Marks at 9 panel discussion Nov. 15. Moderated by Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, the event took place in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.
Sanchez opened the dialogue by asking panelists what they learned or what surprised them over the past year’s election cycle.
“Evangelicals, and Southern Baptists in particular, have been doing a better job building bridges to our our non-Anglo brothers and sisters. We’ve been making steps, but we still have a long way to go,” Ben Wright, pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Park, responded.
“We [also] have a long way to go in reaching out to Anglos who are not on the same socio-economic rung of the ladder that a lot of us are on. There’s another set of bridges and people who we don’t understand and have not reached out to well.”
SBTC President Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church, said the election cycle was new territory for Christians, which forced individuals and churches to navigate uncharted waters.
“It was confusing, and it was hard, and we were all trying to figure it out, all seeking the leadership of the Spirit as best as we knew how,” Lino said. “We can all look back on it and see things we’re really proud of, and we can all look back on it and see things we could have done differently.
“We’re still learning what it means to live as exiles in a foreign land. We’re not as advanced in that area as we think we are, and I think the Lord gives us great grace, I think we should give each other great grace.”
Paul Miller, associate director of The Clements Center for National Security at University of Texas and an elder at City Life Church in Austin, noted that the “culture of a free and open society is a bit more fragile than I thought it was. Now, I’m wondering what we can do as Christians to love our neighbors by upholding that culture of a free and open society.
“The second take away,” he said, “is that by the numbers, by the voting patterns, it seems very evident that white Christians have one set of political concerns and non-white Christians, by and large, have a different set. That difference is real, and it has been the occasion for some hurt and some disagreement.”
Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, likened the election season to “a magnifying glass on our own hearts, nation and churches in such a way that it didn’t create new challenges that weren’t already there, it brought those things into greater clarity and often times with greater tension, angst and social media drama.
“In one sense, that’s really discouraging when you see the blemishes and the points of frustration; but on the other hand that’s good news for us because it gives us a better sense of our mission field and our churches and exposes some things on our own hearts that once we get back to some of the normalcy of a non-election season can enable us to advance the gospel in our communities and in our own families in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.”
The panel discussed how President-elect Donald Trump’s victory has affected cultural trends, including a breakdown in civil discourse and empathy for others, and the effect the presidential transition will have on domestic and foreign policies.
Using Scripture’s description of Christians as citizens of the kingdom of God, with churches serving as embassies in a foreign land, panelists examined how Christians should live out this reality in their public and private lives. They also encouraged pastors to teach their congregations to see themselves in this light.
In their concluding remarks, panelists offered helpful resources and issued a few cautions. Wright, for example, said Christians must view religious liberty as a gift to be exercised but never at the expense of gospel truths.
Miller said calls for church unity are important and necessary, but he also cautioned against “pursuing a cheap and shallow version of church unity” that is nothing more than “the unity of a shared consumer experience.” Rather, unity should be based on “our walk with the Lord and what we believe,” which should allow for church members to discuss their differences clearly and honestly.
Lino, who grew up in South Africa and watched serious religious persecution and police brutality against his family as a result of his father’s preaching against Apartheid, said, “I think American Christians are really weak, fearful and insipid. We’re weak, and we need to grow up. We have it good. This is a great country; it’s so free, so safe. It’s not perfect, but it’s an amazing country.
Lino painted the picture of religious persecution overseas, where Christians must smuggle Bibles and meet in darkness to avoid being killed for their faith. If American Christians experienced that, they would “see what real fear actually feels like, see what harshness actually tastes like,” he said.
“We have it so good, and we whine and complain, and we’re weak. The Lord said it would be this way. What we’re headed to as a country, that’s what the Lord said we’d be in for. What we’ve been experiencing these last 200 years was the exception, not the rule. What’s coming is the rule, and we’re not ready for it.
“We’re weak and overly sensitive and so easily offended. It’s not perfect; things are bad. There are heinous things going on [in the United States]; there are grossly immoral things going on. I’m not saying it’s excusable, but Jesus said it would be this way and way worse.”