An Incendiary Statement?

December 5, 2014

by Kevin Stilley

*This article was originally posted at Kevin’s website www.kevinstilley.com and was used by permission.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission tweeted the following comment shortly after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

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And then the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention issued a press release in which Moore wrote:

“I’m stunned speechless by this news. We hear a lot about the rule of law—and rightly so. But a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

I thought these communications to be ill advised and tweeted this response,

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Suffice it to say, the feedback I received was less than pleasant; and, it completely misrepresented my thoughts and feelings on the topic. So here is further clarification.

There are four reasons why I believe the comments of Russell Moore and the ERLC were inappropriate and incendiary.

1.  The comments of Moore were emotionally charged reactions, not well reasoned responses.  The ERLC consistently states that it is its desire to show churches how they should respond in the midst of difficult cultural crises. Well, do we really want our churches and pastors out there emoting in the public sphere in a manner inconsistent with James 1:19-20?

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.”

Any speech that begins with “I’m stunned speechless…” is probably not going to be what we want our churches and pastors sharing in the marketplace of ideas.

The highly emotional state in which Moore describes himself is probably responsible for the three subsequent mistakes that I think he made in this press release.

2.  Moore accuses the state / government of choking a man to death for selling cigarettes.  That is not just irresponsible emotionally charged rhetoric, it is dishonest.  The confrontation with police may have begun with illegal commerce but the struggle that led to Garner’s death occurred when he resisted officers who sought to take him into custody.  An institution of the Southern Baptist Convention has the obligation to be honest at all times, but especially when the circumstances are as troubling as they are in this case.  And, it is probably best not to use misinformation at the same time you are accusing the government of murder.

3.  Moore states that the grand jury’s findings do not represent Romans 13 justice.  The core theme of Romans 13 regards our Christian duty to submit to government. Is Moore suggesting that there is no longer any requirement to submit to the authority of the government since the government has defaulted on its obligation to its people?  I think this is a very dangerous road to go down. And the irony is almost too much, in that the scuffle occurred when Garner refused to submit to being handcuffed by legal authorities.

4. The fourth reason I think the ERLC statement is ill-conceived is that it inserts race into the situation.  I am aware of no evidence that this confrontation was the result of racial profiling or racial discrimination.  It is my understanding that police were responding to local shopkeepers who had complained that Garner was hurting their business. I do not think it helps race relations in our country to act as though every questionable confrontation that includes an ethnic minority is inherently an act of racism.  We have much work to do in achieving the unity of which Christ spoke in John 17, and that unity will not be achieved by inserting race into every situation, and especially when you are at the same time accusing the state / government of institutional murder.

So yes, for the four reasons above I am disappointed by the ERLC’s incendiary statement and I hope a more level-headed response will follow.

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William Leonhart

Thank you for this very thoughtful response, Professor Stilley. Perspectives like yours are certainly in the minority on the interwebs, though, I doubt they are in the minority among Americans in general.

Jerry Chatham

The man was choked to death because he would not obey the police commands NOT becasue he was selling cigarettes. The SBC should publicly reprimand Moore for his statement.

Les Prouty

Kevin, I have to agree with you. Good points.

Tom

Since when is it okay to choke a man to death because “he would not obey the police commands.” As a foolish teenager, I once ran a red light. Soon I had flashing lights behind me. In a moment of panic I thought maybe I could avoid a ticket by turning down this alley real fast and ducking onto another street. The police officer quickly caught up with me and I quickly pulled over. I’m glad my “resistance” to the instruction of the police officer at first did not invite him to put a choke hold on me. Non-lethal force must become the standard in reprimanding people into custody. As to the blog post, it seems the one accusing others of misrepresenting him is misrepresenting Dr. Moore and ERLC. Why is the first move towards someone in which we disagree be a death blow, either in society or in theological/denominational life? “Reprimand Moore for his statement” because you disagree with it. My goodness! It seems it a bit extreme. How about seek clarification, have another conversation over coffee, or just agree to disagree and move on?

    William F. Leonhart III

    Actually, Tom. The man was not choked to death. His cause of death was officially documented to be a heart attack he suffered in the ambulance on the way to the hospital as a result of chronic health problems he suffered as a result of being overweight. He didn’t just have this one incident with the police, but had a long history of arrests on multiple counts. I agree that the officer was wrong to go against policy, but I also agree with every statement made by Professor Stilley in the above article. When Dr. Moore rushes to judgment misstating the facts and does so speaking for an entity of the SBC, leadership within the SBC should do something. This is no way for church leaders to behave on social media.

      Max

      “This is no way for church leaders to behave on social media.”

      Perhaps Dr. Moore should revisit something he said earlier this year regarding social media platforms. Under a heading of “Social Media on Mission” he wrote “The outrage culture of today, whether broadcast across the airwaves or clicked about on social media, can make us feel better for a moment, but it cannot yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/too-scared-to-cry-social-media-outrage-and-the-gospel

      Just because someone has been given a position to speak, doesn’t necessarily mean he has anything to say. Too much opinion flying across the airwaves these days … not enough “Thus saith the Lord.”

    Rick Patrick

    Tom,

    I am sure there are many Southern Baptist police officers who would like to demand an apology from Dr. Moore. I do not believe for a moment this police officer intended the man, who had many other medical problems, to die. This man was not healthy enough for a life of crime, but of course, there is no disability insurance for criminals. He could have just as easily died climbing stairs or in a street fight with another criminal.

    I agree that the force used in the video did *appear* to be excessive. However, I have no benefit of history or context or dialogue. Presumably, the Staten Island Grand Jury was able to consider all of the relevant facts when they concluded, according to due legal processes, that the officer did not deserve to be indicted. My Cooperative Program dollars do not pay the President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to question the Staten Island Grand Jury when they know more about a case than he does.

    I am thankful for all of the officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect me. Criminals who resist arrest are taking an enormous risk. Refusing the order of a police officer may result in your death—regardless of the color of your skin. I am glad in your example that you quickly pulled over rather than pulling down a side alley. In doing so, you demonstrated Romans 13 “submission to those in authority.” Had you initiated a high speed chase, your car might have careened over an interstate ramp and you might have died. Then you would have been unable to engage us with your comments here at SBC Today—and that would have been our loss. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Lydia

At the risk of being pedantic, this is one of my pet peeves. We are NOT a Romans 13 culture. We do not have a Caesar. Nor are we occupied by a Caesar. We do not submit to Caesar but to agreed upon laws. And when we do not like them we elect people to change them.

We are a nation of laws to obey. Not leaders. We are to obey laws passed by legislatures WE elect. We believe in self government (or we used to) and those hired to enforce laws are under the same laws and we are not obeying them but the laws. . Yes, I know we have forgotten this. But there is a big difference between obeying a “leader” and obeying “laws” that are passed by the consent of the governed.

Russ Moore gets a F in civics but it made for a provocative tweet. (sigh). but then most schools are not teaching this either. In fact, my guess is that Caesars minions would have been very apt to choke someone to death for much less. Get a historical reality check, Russ.

Ironically, most of our laws are for people who refuse to govern themselves.

Lydia

” The comments of Moore were emotionally charged reactions, not well reasoned responses. The ERLC consistently states that it is its desire to show churches how they should respond in the midst of difficult cultural crises. Well, do we really want our churches and pastors out there emoting in the public sphere in a manner inconsistent with James 1:19-20?”

Moore’s comments were not about truth because that is messy stuff that is not tweetable. In my opinion, they were about being popular and accepted.

Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Professor Stilley,

SWBTS just recently enforced an unwritten policy whereby professors, platform speakers, and others were not allowed to criticize SBC entities and entity heads. Is that no longer the case at SWBTS? And when did that policy change? I find your criticism of Dr. Moore so distasteful, unnecessary, divisive, unprofessional from someone in your role, and not in keeping with SBC tradition. Richard Land received no pub;ic criticism for his wayard racial remarks from you or anyone in the SBC camp but Stetzer as I recall. Am I to interpret your silence on Land as in agreement with him?; Inasmuch as you find it necessary to find fault publically with Moore’s statements that everyone in my small world find true, refreshing, prophetic, healing, and redemptive.

Sounds as if you fully support the New York jury decision exonerating the policeman who was involved in the killing of Eric Garner? Am I surmising correctly?

    Rick Patrick

    Dwight,

    Pastor Stilley expressed an opinion regarding the stance of the ERLC President and then supported it with facts. First, he took issue with Dr. Moore for his quick and emotionally charged words. One has to admit this was a quick response and not one offered after great deliberation. Second, he took issue with Dr. Moore’s assertion that Garner was choked for selling cigarettes, when in fact he was choked for resisting arrest and disobeying an officer. Third, he took issue with Dr. Moore’s reference to Romans 13 justice, pointing out the obvious irony that the passage in question calls upon everyone to “submit to the governing authorities” which is the very action, if it had been taken by Garner, that would have resulted in him still being alive. Fourth, he took issue with Dr. Moore’s insertion of race into this discussion—insisting that there is no evidence these officers handled this situation differently due to race.

    On this last point, additional evidence has in fact surfaced, such as the presence on the scene of a female African American senior officer who supervised the entire arrest without stepping in to adjust the level of force being used in making the arrest. Also, the shopkeepers in this community who had reported Garner’s interference with their businesses were primarily ethnic minorities. In other words, while this MAY be an excessive force issue, there is no reason to view it as a race issue. I’m sure that in the history of American law enforcement, many overweight criminals of other ethnicities with heart conditions, diabetes and hypertension have died while resisting arrest.

    On the matter of Stilley’s free speech, I think if we are going to have an honest conversation about our differing perspectives, we should let the man speak his mind. You mentioned Dr. Richard Land—whom we should disclose is on the board of Connect 316, the organization which publishes SBC Today. Yes, Ed Stetzer and others took issue with Land’s comments on the Martin case. Thus, we have precedent for evaluating the public statements of our ERLC President—even to the point of raising serious questions about them. Why would we evaluate Land’s statements but not Moore’s?

    My hope is that an honest and open exchange leads to greater understanding of our various perspectives. If we attempt to stifle that expression, by the kind of intimidation that might threaten one’s employment status, the dissent will still be there—hidden beneath the surface but still simmering. Stilley’s perspective offers real talk. Perhaps it is the kind of talk we might hear from police officers as they do their jobs every day while trying to use just the right amount of force against those who break laws and resist arrest. Perhaps it is the kind of talk we might hear from Grand Jurors who seek to make the right ruling based upon all the findings of fact available to them in any given legal case.

    In any event, although we may disagree with one another at times, we certainly agree on much more. Thank you for engaging here and sharing your comments.

    William F. Leonhart III

    I believe the officer should be reprimanded, demoted, and perhaps fired for going against department policy. I also think NYPD could use this incident as an opportunity to implement stricter penalties for violations of their choke-hold policies. If you read the above comments, though, you will see that Mr. Garner did not die as a direct result of the choke hold. He died later as a result of his pre-existing poor health. Were he to have died of asphyxiation during the struggle, I think you might have a case to argue against the grand jury’s decision in this incident. Yet, even after establishing guilt in the case, there would still need to be quite a few dots connected in order to establish, as Dr. Moore attempts, racial motive.

    Regarding your query about the ghost policy, it sounds far-fetched. Would SWBTS really enact a policy whereby no challenge could be leveled against heads of SBC entities on issues regarding, say soteriology, invitations, the Lord’s Prayer, etc.? What would they put in their White Papers?.

Kevin Stilley

Brother McKissic,

It is not my place to comment on SWBTS policy and its application. However, I can tell you that my comments were not without consequences. If I had been aware of such a policy three days ago I would not have written as I did; not because I fear consequences, but because I believe in submitting to those in authority over me.

For the reasons you mention and what I have said above, I think you will understand if I refrain from further commentary on that matter. However, I regret that you found my analysis of the tweet and press release to be “distasteful, unnecessary, divisive, unprofessional.” I hope you will share with us which of my four reasons you thought to be in error; I would be sincerely interested in your evaluation. It would be dishonest for me to withdraw any of my four objections to Dr. Moore’s tweet and press release at this time. I have not changed my opinion regarding their validity, but I do hope that in time you will forgive any offense.

Regarding your suggestion that I did not speak out about the ERLC during Richard Land’s presidency, you are in error. At the risk of compounding the unpleasantness of my current situation, let me confess that this is far from the first time I have criticized the ERLC. It is just the first time anyone took notice. I am philosophically opposed to the existence of the ERLC because (1) I think it is redundant in that other SBC entities, elected officers, and pastors of autonomous churches could fulfill any of its essential functions as well or better – a matter of stewardship, (2) I don’t like having one man and his agenda being presented to the world as THE SBC Position on things – it is a very diverse convention, (3) I think the nature of the position is such that over time it can become more representative of a political party or other worldly interests rather than serve the role for which it was created, and (4) for the sake of co-belligerency the ERLC inevitably ends up holding hands with Catholics, Mormons, and others with doctrines of salvation that are foreign to the scripture and this confuses the gospel in the minds of the unregenerate. So, I guess it should not be surprising that I have a history of criticizing Richard Land and the ERLC. Perhaps I was in error to do so as you say “in keeping with SBC tradition.”

For the sake of additional perspective, let me say that I have defended Russell Moore in the past when I thought he was being unfairly attacked. And, if you perform a quick search of my website you will find video of some of his sermons along with discussion questions that I wrote for them. I think he is an honorable man and a skilled communicator.

One last thing, twenty-four years ago you came to the church I attended and spoke on the issue of racial reconciliation. I purchased a copy of your book “Beyond Roots: In Search of Blacks in the Bible” and you signed it for me that night. It is a cherished possession. Thank you.

Okay, another one last thing. In the last 48 hours I have been called ignorant, a coward, Nazi, racist, heartless, and a number of other things that I can’t say in public. As someone who struggled against much opposition to integrate two southern churches in Atlanta and Arkansas, I know first hand the difficulties of racial reconciliation. I won’t belabor the point trying to somehow prove that I am not a racist, people will believe what they will believe, but I long for the day in which every barrier to brotherhood has been broken down.

I thought it necessary to respond here to your comment as a matter of courtesy. But, as I said previously, this must be my “Concluding Unscientific Postscript” for the reasons you mentioned. If you would like to continue the conversation I would welcome the opportunity to have coffee with you; I am sure I would benefit from your perspective.

    Dwight McKissic

    1. Eric Garner should not have been choked to death by the NYPD for selling cigarettes, allegedly, illegally. No cigarettes were found on him. There is something drastically wrong in America if evangelicals want to justify that kind of killing over a fairly inconsequential matter.
    2. The officer who choked him to death had been sued by two other Black males and charged with being racist toward them.
    3. Why is it that it is mainly White officers doing these killings on Black males?
    4. A supreme court Justice said about pornography something to the effect: “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” The same can be said of racism. Most Blacks instinctively know when they are experiencing or seeing it.
    5. Don’t know what consequences that you faced for criticizing an SBC entity head, but I’m grateful to know that you faced consequences as I know I did.
    6. In my judgment, it is not helpful to recruitment of students of SWBTS for your views about Garner/Moore to get much publicity. I would not want a student from my congregation to be influenced by the attitude and reasoning that you’ve spoken concerning Garner/Moore.
    7. I would be glad to drink coffee with you. My email address is dmckissic@cbcarlington.org.

Lydia

“SWBTS just recently enforced an unwritten policy whereby professors, platform speakers, and others were not allowed to criticize SBC entities and entity heads. Is that no longer the case at SWBTS”

This is blowing my mind. Is this Orwellian or what? One man’s disagreement is often considered “criticism” by those who hold power. What if there were “unwritten policies” about criticisizing police officers that were “enforced”? I am pretty sure Mark Driscoll had a similar policy. Ask the Petry’s about it over at Joyful Exiles. Maybe the pew sitters who fund the entities need to know about the “unwritten rules” that are enforced

What sort of Christians have unwritten policies that are “enforced”. I guess some animals are more equal than others.

    Max

    Lydia, I’m reluctant to bring up the “C” problem here … but I suspect Dr. Page’s Calvinism Committee, which challenged everybody to get along under one big tent, has something to do with SBC’s unwritten gag policies. Forced unity is not genuine unity and one who speaks his mind should not be accused as an accuser of the brethren. The bottom-line is that some of our SBC leaders these days are saying things contrary to the views of SBC members at large … and we need to have a way to sort all that out. Social media is helpful, but should certainly not cross the lines of civil discourse among brothers.

    P.S. In the case of Driscoll, we see an example of absolute power which corrupted absolutely. I don’t think we are there yet within SBC. May God stuff a prayer in our mouth next time we try to speak in haste.

Lydia

“It is not my place to comment on SWBTS policy and its application. However, I can tell you that my comments were not without consequences. If I had been aware of such a policy three days ago I would not have written as I did; not because I fear consequences, but because I believe in submitting to those in authority over me.”

So we now know there are only “approved opinions” from SWBTS leadership. Sounds more like an indoctrination camp. So what if your “authorities” are wrong? Aren’t you glad the early Baptists did not submit to their “authorities”?

Sheesh! What have we come to? The slide right into collectivism!

    Bill Mac

    I have to agree. For an entity that claims not to be a denomination, we sure act like a denomination.

Jerry Smith

Bro. Kevin, Your 100% correct. Russell Moore’s article may cause trouble, it might incite one person to do very bad things, are it could incite uncontrollable riots, it might cause some innocent person or persons to get hurt or even killed.

“6. Garner did not die at the scene of the confrontation. He suffered cardiac arrest in the ambulance taking him to the hospital and was pronounced dead about an hour later.”

http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/eric-garner-chokehold-grand-jury-police/2014/12/04/id/611058/

This is what the Grand Jury saw along with the other information on that page, therefore they saw the policeman did no wrong. Sad that some will go against the truth that’s been put out, even more sad is men of God will go against this, as well as disobey God as you pointed out.

Paul

I have a real problem with SWBTS’s unwritten censorship policy.

First, let me say SWBTS was on the top two or three of my list to get my master’s from. When Paige Patterson was criticized for accepting a Muslim student, I called the seminary and offered my support of what they did. I’ve been blessed by the writings of some of their professors like Malcolm Yarnell and David Allen and even planned this coming mid-week at my church to talk to a friend who’s on the budget committee about seeing if our church would be willing to make part of our church’s giving a gift to SWBTS.

I also understand that decisions can be made in the heat of the moment or without considering the consequences and can be overturned later. I know I’ve made decisions I haven’t thought through and have regretted. Maybe that’s what SWBTS is doing right now. I hope so. But I contacted them yesterday about their censorship policy against their faculty criticizing SBC entities and heads. And they haven’t gotten back to me.

So can I or anyone else get a real education at SWBTS when their faculty is under a gag order against applying whatever they teach if it criticizes the context we’re in, the SBC?

Why should I believe the seminary’s primary allegiance isn’t to the churches but to the SBC’s authority structure? Presumably SWBTS could criticize me or my pastor or church or missionaries we’ve sent out or churches we’ve planted. But not the entities and their heads?

What other unwritten policies are out there that would affect my choice about where I think I could get an education or not?

I feel like I’ve gone down the rabbit hole where the head of our ethics committee makes statements I’d expect from a liberal denomination. Statements that make it harder for me or any SB to witness to a police officer. And when a seminary professor speaks truth to power, he gets a “don’t touch the Lord’s annointed” I’d expected from the most extreme Penticostal denomination and has suffered the “consequences”. Will his head be served up on a charger next?!

If my SB identity finally ends up coming in conflict with what’s good and true and my ability to smoothly witness, I know which choice the Lord would want me to make.

    Lydia

    Paul, SBTS had a similar unwritten but enforceable policy that Al Mohler instituted. One of those who had it enforced against him was Paul Debussman who lost his job nine months before retirement. His crime was to correct chapel speaker, Tom Eliff. Of course this happen before the Internet blogosphere.n

David R. Brumbelow

Paul, and all,

I would strongly recommend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to any potential students and recommend anyone to support them.
You will not find a better seminary.

Southwestern News magazine, put out quarterly, is one of the most inspiring magazines you will ever read.
Paige Patterson is an outstanding president, outstanding as a scholar, a conservative, and as an evangelist.
SWBTS is doing incredible things in local and worldwide evangelism.
Paige Patterson, Kevin Stilley, David Allen, Daniel Sanchez, Steve Smith, and others at SWBTS are heroes of mine. I greatly appreciate the work they do.

Yes, I imagine there is an unwritten rule that the SBC entities not be running down each other.
Not just SWBTS, but all the SBC agencies; so don’t just single them out.
To a point I’m sure they will disagree and have different things they emphasize and different beliefs.
But I doubt many Southern Baptists want their different entities going to war with each other, and doing it with Cooperative Program money.
They may quietly dissent, maybe somewhat behind the scenes.
But unless it is something monumental, that is probably about all they will do.
They may also strongly contend for an issue, but without naming names.

Frankly, if you want to be in the thick of various denominational battles, you may not want to be an employee of any of our entities.
Ask an IMB missionary; they are not wanted to get into battles, but simply and faithfully share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are exceptions, but I imagine this is a general rule.

Check out swbts.edu and Southwestern News. I think you will be impressed with their dedication to the truth of God’s Word and winning the world to Christ.
David R. Brumbelow

    Paul

    David,

    I agree that SWBTS is a great SB seminary. They were head and shoulders on top of my list of SB seminaries I was interested in. All my interactions with them have been helpful and positive. Of the schools I looked into, I think they were the first to get back to me with a large, mailed out info bundle. In fact, they got back to me today, and though we didn’t come to a meeting of the minds, he was cordial and actually spent 40 minutes talking with me.

    Still, the problem I have is that the head of an SB entity can make a public false accusation against a police officer accusing him of a crazily motivated murder, and that’s okay. (And you can also think of some of the statements Al Mohler has made about non-Calvinists.) But if an employee of one of the entities objects publicly to anything an entity or one of its head does, that’s not okay. And that doesn’t help my confidence in what I would be getting from a SB seminary. And you’re right; from what I gather, that’s the normal policy of all the seminaries. I guess it hurt so much because I liked SWBTS so much.

    Maybe I’m missing something about how a convention needs to be run, though I doubt it. I think I’ll bow out of this conversation and talk to my pastor about it.

    Thanks for your response.

Paul

Yesterday two police officers were murdered in NYC in “retaliation” for the death of Eric Garner. This is why we should take care in what we say in these types of situations. Some people may act out what we simply see as rhetoric or expressing our emotional frustrations. Abuse by police should always be opposed, but we need to make sure that it’s actual abuse of power. And we need to deal with what was actually done.

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