In 2013, I wrote a column warning of PC drift in the Baptist world. Russell Moore, one of the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, had given an interview to the Wall Street Journal for an article entitled, “Evangelical Leader Preaches A Pullback From Politics, Culture Wars.” The article paraphrased Moore as saying that “it is time to tone down the rhetoric and pull back from the political fray, given what he calls a ‘visceral recoil’ among younger evangelicals to the culture wars.” The article contrasted Moore’s softer approach to “gay marriage” with that of his Religious Right predecessors, and noted that after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act Moore sent out a flier to 45,000 churches about “How Should Your Churches Respond” in which he said homosexuals “aren’t part of an evil conspiracy” and that gay marriage shouldn’t be seen as a “‘culture war’ political issue.”
Under this zeitgeist-sensitive approach, politically incorrect professors at Baptist schools have to tread lightly, and if they don’t they might find themselves out of a job. Take the case of Robert Oscar Lopez, an ex-gay who lost his job at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after he refused to tone down his criticisms of the LGBTQ agenda.
“Professor who sought refuge from liberal academe at a Southern Baptist seminary finds out why tenure matters,” reported Inside Higher Education earlier this month. Raised by two lesbian mothers, which plunged him into the “gay underworld,” Lopezleft it and became a tenured humanities professor at California State University at Northridge. “Eventually, Lopez left California and secular academe for Southwestern. The Texas institution doesn’t have tenure, but he thought he had found a permanent place among like-minded, socially conservative academics,” reported Inside Higher Education.
But it was not to be, owing largely to his stance on homosexuality, according to Inside Higher Education:
…it’s more likely that his antigay comments caught up with him — albeit in an unexpected place, at least to him.
Documents Lopez shared with the conservative Christian website Enemies Within the Church… suggest that he was repeatedly asked to clear any public comments about homosexuality with the institution first. Those included social media posts and media requests, such as one seeking Lopez’s comment on a study seeming to link homosexuality to youth self-harm.
“Notifying us after you’ve submitted the work will raise some concerns,” reads one September email from Michael Wilkinson, dean of the seminary’s Scarborough College. “Also, I’m not sure that [Provost Randy] Stinson understood you to mean that you would continue to speak on these issues. He understood you to mean taking down the social media stuff and then to focus on the drama club and your classes.”
Stinson tells Lopez in a recording of a separate September conversation that among the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “your reputation is not good there with those folks.”
I called up Lopez and asked him if he had run afoul of Russell Moore, who heads up the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He said that he had, and that that had “contributed” to his sacking. He told me that Moore is playing a “double game” — nominally and fecklessly opposing the LGBTQ agenda (lest he scare off traditionalist donors and the like) while discouraging anyone who staunchly and effectively opposes it.
Lopez told me that his support for reparative therapy, of which he is an example, also put him in bad standing with Moore, who has opposed it. To the Religion News Service, Moore has called reparative therapy “severely counterproductive” and dismissed it with a straw-man sophistry: “The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea.”
The problems that I suspected in 2012 have come to fruition. Coming from a former Bill Clinton voter and Never Trumper, Moore’s strategy to distance the Baptists from the supposed bad old days of Jerry Falwell is succeeding at the expense of important voices like those of Robert Oscar Lopez. This should alarm all Christians. As Jesus Christ said, what good is salt if it has lost its savor?
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