SOUTH BISCAYNE, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Evangelicals at the precipice of reaching their communities for Christ "may or may not be the moral majority in America" anymore, but still their leaders should respect their voices.
John Cross, 26-year pastor of the 3,000-member South Biscayne Church near Tampa, Florida, told Christian Examiner this election may have exposed the "elephant in the room" when it comes a divide between some Southern Baptist leaders and rank and file members and their voting priorities.
Once the president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, Cross said it never crossed his mind to discourage his congregants, and those whom he influences through social media, from voting for the candidate who supports a pro-life, "from the womb to the tomb" position.
Traditionally the weekend prior to elections, Cross said he has addressed the issues at stake to challenge his church family to make "biblically informed decisions."
"I believe the issues that I feel strongly about are not political with all my heart; I believe they are biblical," he said.
Contrarily, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, went on a full court press before the election – even before the primaries – first slamming Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump – and finally appearing to promote a "Never Trump" or no-vote position.
Cross said while it is the right and responsibility of every Southern Baptist and every church within the denomination freely to exercise its conscience, it does seem incongruous that a leader – whose salary is paid for with funds from the offering plates passed within the denomination's churches – would take such an open stance against what appears to be the majority of churchgoers.
"I believe as a pastor that it is my responsibility to call God's people to stand for what is right," Cross said. "If we are not careful, we can be too concerned that we can speak up and speak out."
A believer that the church can be "thriving" even in a hostile environment prognosticators warn will be the result of voting for a flawed candidate, Cross said he is concerned that if the church draws back in order to fit in, it may give in to the fatalism that Richard Land, president emeritus of the ERLC, spoke of in a recent column, "Why so many Calvinists in the 'Never Trump' Movement?"
Land, in his rational for why many outspoken Christian Calvinist leaders supported a no vote or third party vote – said the posture stemmed from a reliance on a belief system which touts that since "everything has already been decreed and preordained by God," than "the decision about who is going to win, for example, the presidential election, has also always been preordained by God in eternity past."
Not voting was never an option for Cross, he insisted. Nor was it an option for his wife or three daughters.
"We all abhor Mr. Trump's comments; there is no way to defend them," Cross said. "But thankfully he did acknowledge they are out of line."
SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE OVERRIDES OTHER CONCERNS
Still, the number one most important issue for Cross and his family in this election was the sanctity of human life, he said. The power of the president to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges "by the hundreds," and thousands in a new administration who will likely share a similar worldview on moral issues, drove their vote.
In denominational life, Cross mused that like an entertainer pointed out about the two million people between Los Angeles and New York who could have swayed the election, it could be easy for some religious leaders to forget "those who brought you to the dance."
"Everyone who serves in the governmental world and in the denominational world has to be careful that they stay in touch with the people they are serving," Cross said.
Cross told Christian Examiner he read an article in The New Yorker magazine which describes Russell Moore as being out of touch with many in the Southern Baptist Convention. And though some point to Moore, 45, as a sort of millennial with young children, he is closer in age to the 52-year-old Cross.
Committed to teaching his own family, church and the wider community the importance of voting for a pro-life candidate, Cross admits being concerned about a denominational leader like Moore who the pastor said is probably aptly described in the magazine article:
During this election season, Moore has sometimes appeared out of place in his own denomination—a Trump detractor leading a church largely peopled by Trump supporters. But he seemed comfortable in this uncomfortable position, perhaps because he has learned to accept the limits of his ability to change the world, or even to understand it.
PROLIFE PLATFORM VOTING IS 'LIFE AND DEATH ISSUE'
Another Southern Baptist pastor in Florida who supported a staunchly pro-life platform, Stephen Rummage, pastor of the 3,700-member Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, said he didn't want to address issues related to the ERLC or Russell Moore, but most definitely "doesn't understand" how such a "life and death issue" is not paramount in the choice to vote or who to vote for.
Still, Rummage, past chairman of the SBC Resolutions Committee, said he believes it is important to direct people to vote as a responsibility of Christian citizenship – something he has regularly done as pastor of the church.
With the choices regarding the sanctity of human life and other positions so clear in this election, "and Hillary being so clear," Rummage said, he couldn't understand how a Christian could "advocate something that could wind up helping her get into office."
To clarify, Rummage said, "I respect the people who have those opinions but don't understand why they would wind up with those positions."
As for the future, Rummage said he is comfortable in maintaining a posture of prayer towards President-elect Trump, a position he has long advocated towards President Obama, as well.
He also prays and hopes Trump will continue to listen to godly counsel, like those on his Religious Advisory Counsel, and that the president-elect and those around him will come to know and follow Christ.
Naming Southern Baptists Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd, two past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention who openly shared about Trump and their interactions with him in the past few weeks, Rummage said it gives him confidence to know those men will have opportunities to share their opinions with the new president.