An Open Letter to Garrett Kell (Lead Pastor of Del Ray Baptist)

An open letter to Del Ray Baptist’s Lead Pastor on his effort to try and get Mike Pence canceled from the SBC meeting. The Wondering Eagle is encouraged by Garrett’s efforts in this area. This post is a reflection on the issues of mixing politics and faith. At the same time this also is a reflection on the problem of tribalism which is also an issue in 9 Marks.

“One man with courage is a majority.

Thomas Jefferson 

“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.”

Thucydides 

As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.

Psalm 103:13 NKJV 

Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia 

Christian nationalism as displayed by Robert Jeffress and First Baptist Dallas

Garrett-

I want to take a few minutes and write you a quick note. The past couple of days I find myself reflecting on the challenges and issues of the SBC, especially as they met in Dallas, Texas. This must have been a neat trip for you as I am sure you were able to connect with many you know, especially from Texas. If my memory serves me correct you were involved at Denton Bible Church. According to Google that is not too far away from the meeting site. So that must have been neat for you to be back in Texas given your history there. A good portion of this letter will be about the political situation in the SBC with Mike Pence speaking. I wrote about this the other day in, “Mike Pence Speaks to the Southern Baptists in Dallas, While Garrett Kell Expresses His Concern, and For Some Southern Baptists Faith is Not About God, but Instead a Political Party.”  When you learned that Mike Pence was scheduled to be the speaker for the SBC you were deeply concerned. And you acted on those concerns. Garrett I am deeply sick of politics being a part of faith. Many young people are, and this issue of mixing faith and politics is destroying the Christian church in the United States. I honestly wonder which is more important at times for this crowd that embraces politics and faith. Is it faith or politics?  The regular, evangelical wing of the SBC has some deep issues. One of them is that many evangelicals have married faith and politics and created a new “faith.” In this side of the SBC you have largely a growing section of Christian nationalism. This is what Robert Jeffress is about, and I touched on this in, “Robert Jeffress Believes that God has Given Donald Trump Authority to Wage War on the Korean Peninsula.”  There are many times when I want to vomit when I think of this crowd. When I stop and think of what some of these people want to do with the repeal of the Johnson Amendment it makes me want to bolt for the doors. The Johnson Amendment is one of the healthiest things that exists in evangelicalism. After all the divorce of politics and faith is essential and deeply needed. For many people this issue is driving them away from the Christian faith as they want nothing to do with it. This issue has grown considerably since 2016 and I have had conversations with friends, acquaintances who are deeply troubled by this. For many evangelicals it appears as if faith is a political party in the end. Lets go back to Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas. Is First Baptist Dallas a church or a political party? I ask this because of how political Robert Jeffress has become. Plus I would be fascinated to know have they threatened their 501 (c)(3) status? Honestly I wonder about that from time to time. Personally I have no respect for Robert Jeffress.  When I see how political some evangelicals have become for me this is why 501(c)(3) status should be taken away from many evangelical institutions. Honesty I think it would help them in the end. I explored whether or not 501(c)(3) should be taken away from churches a few years ago in, “Should 501(c)(3) Status End for Churches? If Evangelical Christianity Can Not Police Itself Against Criminal Activity, Fraud, and Waste…then Yes 501(c)(3) Status Should End.” 

What impressed me Garrett is that you actually addressed the issue with Pence speaking at the SBC and pushed back. Your foresight is correct on the problems that would come about in having Pence speak. As things unfolded you were vindicated in the end. Today people remember this meeting not for the resolution on abuse which is notable but for the political rally that this meeting became. It played out terribly in the national press. How many secular humanist and atheists will just have their negative views of the SBC reaffirmed? Going forward J.D. Greear should resolve to make sure that a politician does not have the pulpit again. As Jonathan Leeman wrote in this Washington Post article (which I believe was published from The Gospel Coalition) Mike Pence belonged in a pew and not the pulpit. That said, you did the right thing in challenging the SBC and trying to get Pence canceled. Your motives were good. To be honest with you Garrett when I think of your actions in the SBC meeting in Dallas and last year in Phoenix you have been a positive role in the denomination. In speaking out and pushing back you have done the right thing in two annual meetings. So I just want to say kudos and say keep up the good work. Hopefully this situation that occurred in Dallas will cause many people to stop and think about what they participated in. When they see how politics is driving people away perhaps that will bring many in the SBC to pause and consider what it right. And yet, while saying that, I honestly am not very optimistic. No one knows how to shoot themselves in the foot better than the SBC. The convention in Dallas is proof of that point. So when it comes to politics in the SBC, I hope you can be a force multiplier and push back on this issue. As an outsider I will support your efforts to make faith apolitical.  That is so desperately needed today. 

So that is one issue I wanted to touch on, but there is another that I feel compelled to raise. One of the issues that is destroying our culture today is tribalism. Tribalism is harming and undermining our government and political system. The way people rally around a person or idea and put them up on a pedestal and blindly defend them in the face of the facts is disturbing. We  also see this in our culture as well, as much as I like Robert DeNiro as an actor what he did on the Tony awards and the way people embraced him showed how tribalism is an issue. I could go on and on and point out how tribalism is an issue over and over again. Personally I am sick of tribalism as I see the issue tearing our country apart. You played a role in pushing back against a crowd in the SBC who are very tribalistic. And I commend you for that action. However, to be honest with you Garrett you need to go farther. There is another form of tribalism that you and others need to confront,. You need to have a long talk with Mark Dever about the favoritism he showed C.J. Mahaney. When the Sovereign Grace scandal erupted in 2011 and Mahaney fled Covenant Life Church to Capitol Hill Baptist, Mark Dever violated the 9 Marks system in enabling Mahaney. I would propose to you Garrett that five of the 9 Marks were violated. Those five are – membership, discipline, leadership, discipleship and “The Gospel.” This is a gaping wound in your theology and it needs to be addressed. I wrote a post about how Mark Dever undermined 9 Marks in the SGM scandal, “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” The question I would like to ask you is do you comprehend how this is affecting your ability to preach the Gospel and reach people on the outside? Do you see how Mark Dever’s action has undermined the Christian faith and how those who go along and stay silent on this also undermine the Gospel? This is an issue that really can’t be avoided. But let me also ask this question as well. Do you realize the opportunity that exists to be on the right side of history if you do the correct thing? From my interpretation the Christian faith is about repentance and forgiveness is it not? And one of the reasons why evangelical Christianity is so sick is because Christians don’t admit mistakes or say they are sorry. They never own their errors. From Mark Dever not challenging C.J. Mahaney to a person from Jordan Kaulfin’s Redeemer Arlington who gave birth to a false accusation that threatened me; they have all illustrated this point. This blog which has been read be nearly half a million people and has close to 900 posts was born out of psychological trauma and pain. The issue was never resolved, and never came close to what an attorney advised me. So honestly its hard for me as someone more on the edge to take some of these systems legitimately when I observe the issues in them. One profile of courage inside the 9 Marks system is Ryan Fullerton from Immanuel Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky. The way Ryan’s church apologized and admitted error with Rachael Denhollander really stands out. The way Immanuel Baptist decided not to let anyone from Sovereign Grace preach or do more while the sexual abuse cover-up allegations remain is a breath of fresh air. Maybe you could discuss the Mark Dever/C.J. Mahaney  issue with Ryan Fullerton and consider what I am saying to you. You can read about this in, “Ryan Fullerton’s Immanuel Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky Reacts to The Washington Post Story About Rachael Denhollander and Sovereign Grace.

So let me end this on a positive perspective. I have a deep amount of respect for you Garrett. What you did in the SBC meeting in Dallas was needed. I think you have a lot of potential, especially if you do the right thing in regards to the Mark Dever/C.J. Mahaney issue. I still need to come by to Del Ray Baptist and watch you preach. A couple of months back I sat through a service at Franconia Baptist. This blog has taken me up and down the East Coast that has kept me busy. But let me promise you to visit in the near future and listen to your preach. That is my word to you. Please take care of yourself, 

Very Respectfully, 

David Bonner