COMMENTARY: SBC presidency too tricky for Greear

by Rick Patrick, |
Screen Shot of J.D. Greear for SBC president promotional video

DURHAM, N.C. (Christian Examiner) — In 1986, secular hip hop music group Run-D.M.C. released the album Raising Hell. The second cut was entitled It's Tricky. We can be certain that when Def Jam Records produced the Raising Hell album, they had no inkling that thirty years later their music would be discussed in the context of a Southern Baptist Presidential election. In a video released last month, of all the songs that might have been chosen for parody, Ashley Unzicker, on behalf of J.D. Greear, selected the song It's Tricky.

Greear needs to tell us if, in fact, he approved of this ad. If he did, shame on him for his poor judgment, and if he did not, shame on him for being unfamiliar with the activities of those working on his behalf, and for not distancing himself from it immediately, admitting the mistake, apologizing and moving on.

In the video, Ashley extols the virtues of J.D. Greear as a candidate, declaring that serving as SBC President is indeed tricky. Frankly, as one who typically loves satire and humor, this particular parody struck me as being wildly out of place. It's only value is to serve as a metaphor illustrating that the SBC Presidency is indeed too tricky a position for anyone who would sign off on such an awkward and inappropriate appeal.

1. The song and album chosen for parody is blatantly offensive.

There may be some context in which an album entitled Raising Hell is an appropriate reference for Southern Baptist ministers, but if one is being nominated for our highest office, such foolishness has no place. In addition to the drug and gang culture associated with secular hip hop music generally, there are specific immoral references in the original song, It's Tricky, making it particularly unsuitable for satire. Such lyrics include, "I went to her house to bust her out" (a slang expression for intercourse) and "these girls are really sleazy, all they just say is please me." Why choose a song whose original lyrics glorify fornication and promiscuity? Is this really the song that will reach out and grab the interest and attention of Southern Baptists? Not only is the song immoral, but its use reveals an enormous lack of understanding concerning Southern Baptist identity. Is THIS really the one song that best speaks to Southern Baptists, that best reaches us for Greear's candidacy? What must Greear think of Southern Baptists to assume that this type of stunt would appeal to us? Generally speaking, Southern Baptists are not really that into hip hop—and for very good reason.

2. Greear alone must bear full responsibility for the release of the video.

One might be tempted to excuse Greear from this foolishness on the basis that he truly did not know what was going on. But isn't that itself a concern? Are we to believe that J.D. Greear had no idea that this video was being produced in support of his own candidacy? Politicians recite the well-known phrase at the end of their advertisements, "I'm _____ and I approve of this ad." Greear needs to tell us if, in fact, he approved of this ad. If he did, shame on him for his poor judgment, and if he did not, shame on him for being unfamiliar with the activities of those working on his behalf, and for not distancing himself from it immediately, admitting the mistake, apologizing and moving on. The blame for introducing this parody of an outdated, secular, immoral song belongs to Greear alone.

3. Releasing ANY type of commercial is a break with our long standing custom.

Traditionally, in Southern Baptist elections, the philosophy has been, "The man does not seek the job, but the job seeks the man." Greear's stunt politicizes the race for the SBC Presidency beyond anything that we have seen since 1989 when Daniel Vestal purchased thirty minutes of television air time on a local network to promote his candidacy. Perhaps we can be grateful that Vestal did not even imagine making a parody of the Run-D.M.C. song It's Tricky—which at that time had only been released for three years. I can already hear the objections of those who might claim that these sensitivities are old-fashioned and out of place, that over time, producing parodies of songs that glorify fornication and promiscuity has become more fashionable and acceptable in Southern Baptist life. Granted, I may be old-fashioned, compared to some, but it is not the "old-fashioned" part of me that is concerned with this video. It is simply the "good judgment, sober, exercising discretion" part.

4. The video includes tacit endorsements by various SBC leaders claiming neutrality.

A great deal of effort has been made to disaffirm that these appearances represent any type of official endorsement. Disclaimers are printed at the beginning and at the end of the video. Additionally, David Platt indicated by private email to an IMB Trustee on March 23rd that he was not endorsing anyone for SBC President. This raises a few questions. Why were all of these disclaimers considered to be necessary? Because, of course, when SBC leaders appear in a video in which Ashley sings and dances and extols the virtues of J.D. Greear, they are obviously associating with one candidate for office by their very participation in the video. Did these leaders know how the clip would be used? If not, why were they not informed? Why do the video credits read, "For Entertainment Only" unless the creators of the film felt that it could very reasonably be construed as a candidate commercial? Basically, we have been told that these endorsements are not endorsements and this commercial is not a commercial. Do they think we fell off a turnip truck and landed on our heads? Why even produce an "entertainment only" video if not to help the candidacy of J.D. Greear?

In the larger scheme of things, one slightly cheesy rap music parody is certainly not the end of the world. However, it does shed some light into the kind of judgment, discretion, wisdom and experience we can reasonably expect from a man asking Southern Baptists to elect him as our President. Was it unwise to release the video since the song upon which it is based is so morally questionable? Was it deceptive to use cameos of SBC leaders without telling them ahead of time how their likeness and words would be used? Was it honest to disclaim the video as purely entertainment when it is so clearly a campaign commercial? Is this kind of stunt really appropriate for one who aspires to be the President of the Southern Baptist Convention? Songs about sleazy girls and albums about raising hell may be part of our culture in America, but I believe Southern Baptists stand strongly and firmly for something else entirely. At least, I hope we do. The choice for me is clear. Under no circumstances will I consider voting for J.D. Greear as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Fortunately, for me, coming to that conclusion was not the least bit tricky.

Rick Patrick is the publisher of the blog, SBC Today and the founder and executive director ofConnect316. He is pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in Alabama and a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theologial Seminary. This commentary is used with permission.