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Monday, October 08, 2007

Bush The Universalist

That's the title of Terry Mattingly's latest post over at GetReligion.

Mattingly writes:
The media have written extensively, if poorly, about Bush’s faith. There was that New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story about Bush’s faith. And countless others which we’ve all read over the past decade.

And yet when President Bush celebrates other religions or otherwise expresses his universalism — which he has done repeatedly — the media barely notice. In an Oct. 4 interview with Al Arabiya, President Bush said

Well, first of all, I believe in an almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That’s what I believe. I believe that Islam is a great religion that preaches peace.

Mattingly wonders if the media ignores Bush's universalism (pluralism?) "because it doesn't fit with their preconceived notion of Bush as an evangelical extremist."

Fascinating stuff, check it out.

Back in late July, I wrote a post entitled Universalist Addresses Southern Baptist Convention.

What amazes me (well, not really) is the way Southern Baptist leaders treat Presidents when they talk theology. Jimmy Carter gets labeled a heretic by Al Mohler & Company. Yet, folks like Richard Land give Bush's unambiguous theological statements a pass. After Bush's interview with Charlie Gibson back in 2003, Richard told Baptist Press that the President was "simply mistaken" and that "we should always remember that he is commander in chief, not theologian in chief." Instead of calling Bush a heretic - Southern Baptists invite him to speak year after year to their annual meeting!

Ah the inconsistency of fundamentalists....

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Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Those would be pluralist statements. Not necessarily universalist ones. One can be an exclusivist universalist or a pluralist who believes some people will be damned.

In general, with a few dramatic exceptions, politicians make very poor theologians.

1:42 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

That's because as long as he doesn't support Jimmy Carter, everything's okay, BDW. It's very simple logic.

2:14 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...

I agree with Michael that neither Bush nor Carter are among the few politicians who are good theologians. I would have neither as a Sunday School teacher or leader in my Baptist church.

I think you're ignoring the point I've made before:

President Bush isn't a Baptist and doesn't claim to be one. So, when he speaks to Baptists, it's obviously as a politician and Presidnet, not a theologian.

Carter does claim to be a Baptist, and wants to be a leader of Baptists in a new covenant which is to be a "new prophetic voice" and give an "authentic Baptist witness" while holding on to "traditional Baptist values."

See the distinction in relevance and importance of the gentlemen's soteriology to authentic Baptists?

7:08 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Whoa, Chuck, you're putting words in my mouth. I didn't name names. I said, "In general, with a few dramatic exceptions, politicians make very poor theologians." I was thinking of 3 exceptions: Abraham Lincoln (despite the fact that he was never baptized, nor joined any church); fmr. Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR); and Jimmy Carter (D-GA)--2 Republicans and Democrat. Carter has read more theology than almost any other elected official I know of, including Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Have you read Carter's Living Faith or the sequel? While showing a layperson's perspective, not seminary training, I found them far deeper than anything ever written by Billy Graham and lightyears ahead of the likes of Robert Schuller or Rick Warren.

That's probably as best as we can hope for from a layperson politician.

3:10 AM

Anonymous Chuck said...


My apologies. I assumed you were referring to Carter along with Bush in your first paragraph.

I guess President Carter's case shows us that one doesn't really need all the theology in the world, or to be so deep intellectually as to drown spiritually in the currents of pluralism.

4:44 AM

Blogger Mike L. said...

Carter is very well read in theology and has summarized those views in several books of his own.

We would be in a much better condition as a nation today if we had not caved into fear in 1980. We should have given him another term and left the policies in place that he championed (CAFE fuel effeciency standards that could compete with Europe, universal health care for kids, non-violent peace negotiations in the middle east, protection of Israel through peace not bombs, ending the costly war on drugs, and strong regulation of polluting corporations). Most of those policies were in place by the time he left office but over turned by his successor.

6:22 AM

Blogger CB Scott said...

B. Daddy,

You make a good point here.

I guess, in the end it is just the way some things "Land" with leadership in the SBC.


9:28 AM

Blogger foxofbama said...

BdiddY: Order you and Hankins a DVD of Parham's latest today. See my blog. I saw the premiere last night.
Take it to Uncle Prent at bl.com.
I understand MOther Jones had an article not long ago that said a Dan Vestal revival at FBC Midland where Arthur Blessit was the evangelist is where President Bush made his Public profession.
What irony.

12:42 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Oh, get OVER the universalism crap, Chuck! Every Baptist church I have ever been a member of has had at least one openly universalist member and a few pluralists.
Not ALLOW Carter to teach Sunday School? Does your church have some kind of test for SS teachers?
Every Baptist church I have known has been so desperate for SS teachers that no one was turned away, especially for adults. After all, since Baptists believe in priesthood of believers, we don't have SS teachers who tell others what to believe anyway. Since my early teens I have seen Baptists disagree in Sunday School over just about everything--and keep up the arguments all the way to the Ponderosa. We disagreed over soteriology, Israel, EVERYTHING. We didn't EXPECT agreement.
We felt free to disagree with the preacher, too. (When I first had a student pastorate, I found out how nervous that makes one. I can remember a certain organist who was sure I was a heretic. She would sigh loudly during the sermons and then send me long letters where she would "correct" my theology. But at least she listened. There was a deacon who would turn off his hearing aid as soon as I walked into the pulpit!)
I don't want to belong to any church where that is not the case.

1:37 PM

Anonymous Lee said...

If what you say is true, the SBC has no business inviting any politician to address the convention. Bush is not a Southern Baptist. He is certainly a pluralist in his religious views, and far more so than Carter in that regard. The SBC is not a political entity. Therefore, its invitations issued exclusively to Republicans weakens the credibility of the conservative resurgence on every other issue. It's hard to claim that you believe the Bible to be inerrant and infallible on the one hand, and yet completely ignore it by inviting a liberal, Methodist, gay friendly, religious pluralist to address the convention every year.

I say that tongue in cheek. The SBC's purpose and vision should preclude any hint of endorsement of a political position.

8:48 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

First, Michael is right in his first statement BDW, Bush is a pluralist, not a universalist. There is a huge difference.

Second, I don't agree with the SBC inviting any politician to the convention (or any church for that matter).

Third, I do think there is a distinction that must be made between Bush and Carter. Carter claims to be a religious leader to some extent. Chuck is right in noting that Carter is trying to start a religious movement in this new Baptist entity, so his theological position should be seriously scrutinized. You can't scrutinize Bush in the same way as President as you can Carter as religious leader. Those are simply apples and oranges.

Fourth, I don't think Michael really gets the priesthood of all believers if he thinks that because of it we shouldn't discipline our SS teachers and require them to teach according to our faith traditions. Church membership, and especially a teaching role in a church, is voluntary and subject to the discipline of the members and the elders. And we are not talking about the difference between a Calvinist and Zwinglian view of the Supper here. We are talking about a pluralistic (or universalistic) view of salvation. That's a massive issue.

And btw, I have never been in church where I have known that a universalist was a member, and certainly have never had a pluralistic SS teacher. And I would quickly withdraw my membership from any church where such existed. I don't care if you need SS teachers or not (which is a sign of a dying, not a healthy, church), Baptist churches should hold to Baptist theology and have SS teachers who do the same.

And that doesn't mean agreeing on all, but certainly the essentials like soteriology.

10:04 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Forget about the New Baptist Covenant.

Southern Baptist leaders were attacking Carter's theology years before this Celebration was announced. Al Mohler comes to mind. Yet has Al Mohler ever scrutinized George W. Bush? The inconsistency is blatantly obvious.

Carter is simply an active layperson. He's taught Sunday School and been involved in Baptist life for years. Maybe the difference between Bush and Carter is that one is in church every time the doors are open while the other is not?

Why not scrutinize the personal theology of all Presidents who go public with their beliefs?

I just wonder why good Calvinists aren't out and about calling Bush an apostate or a heretic. D.R., y'all like that kinda language right?

10:22 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...

Big Daddy,

I'm with you--I hope everyone will forget about the New Baptist Covenant, as long as Carter is the keynoter.


You need a church named "Disunity, Sorta Don't Care Baptist?". Sounds very inclusive, but not very New Testament (start with Act 2 and 4, then go from there).

Priesthood / soul competency of the believer doesn't mean one can interpret and believe scripture any old way he feels and still be called Baptist. See Herschel Hobbs, p. 10 of BF&M (1963 versions will be fine) if you consider him to be a suitable source.

8:31 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


I do agree that "soul freedom" gives freedom and demands responsibility.

The Church also has responsibility.

But when DR talks about discipline, I get uncomfortable. I'd like to see how a church disciplines it's members? History has shown us congregations big on church discipline have tended to punish for anything and everything. I hear many Calvinists talking about the need for discipline but really would like to hear concrete examples of how it is implemented?

11:04 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Ah, yes, the final refuge of fundie fear: attack other churches. For D.R.'s info: My home church was very healthy and had started 6 other churches in my home county. It supported, in addition to large contributions to the old Cooperative Program, 4 missions, regularly had short-term mission projects, and regularly had young people led to ministry. When I was there, it had about 500 members.
And, no, people didn't just believe or teach anything--but SS teachers didn't have to be "vetted," because they used literature from the Sunday School Board (before it became that travesty, "Lifeway") and because Sunday School was about BIBLE STUDY. Remember open Bibles and inductive Bible study? Remember believers who would argue together over a text like rabbinical students in a yeshiva? THAT'S Baptist.
At something we oldsters called "Training Union," not at Sunday School, we studied the BF&M (1963 version), church history, the history of missions, and basic Christian doctrine--using materials like the old Layman's Guides to Christian Doctrine.
But we still had people who argued for universalism--and they could make a very biblical case, too.

I don't think you Carter haters have really read anything he has written. This is one of the most BAPTIST and theologically informed politicians I can name. The only one in my lifetime I can think of who comes close is fmr. Oregon Senator Mark O. Hatfield, a Republican, and another Baptist. No, I don't think Mike Huckabee is very theologically knowledgeable, Southwestern degree or not.

Very few U.S. presidents have been authors--and I mean real authors, not those ghost-written campaign books. Teddy Roosevelt was an acknowledged historian. Woodrow Wilson was a historian and university president prior to his presidency of the U.S.--and our only president with a Ph.D.
But Jimmy Carter has written nearly 30 books on politics and world affairs, aging, a children's book, a book on peacemaking that challenges teens to be peacemakers, on outdoor life, and 2 books on faith, the second a collection of biblical studies as an informed layperson. And most of these books have been given credit in their fields.
But you "Jimmy Carter is Satan" folks just give knee-jerk reactions that are spoon fed to you by Al Mohler, Richard Land, and Co. and never actually bother to read the man for himself. What's the word for that? Oh, yeah, "bigotry."
As for me, I am not a universalist because I wonder if anyone who displays the narrowness of spirit that fundamentalists do can ever be saved? Will there be fundamentalists in the resurrection? I wonder.

11:09 AM

Blogger D.R. said...


Michael makes clear in his rant why Mohler and others have attacked his theology - he writes books about it in order to pursuade people. While I again say that I don't agree with Bush's theology, he clearly doesn't attempt to pursuade people through his speeches or writing regarding theology. And he has never attacked another's theology for holding to traditional Baptist views on soteriology (like Carter has). Sure Bush should be criticized for his views, but only to the extent that he claims expertise. And Carter claims far more expertise in the arena of theology than does Bush. Therefore, his criticism should be much sharper. Were Bush to write a book in which he espoused his theological views in the way Carter did, then I would expect him to be criticized in the same way. Until then it seems crystal clear that you are trying to compare apples and oranges here (though I still agree he shouldn't be speaking at the SBC convention).

On your fear of church discipline, I am sorry for you that you have seen this take place in an appropriate manner. I have seen it first hand twice and have read numerous stories about it working well in plenty of other places. The problem is that when it happens in an immature church or for the wrong reasons, that is when you hear about it.

It is simply false when you say that "History has shown us congregations big on church discipline have tended to punish for anything and everything." Church discipline used to be a very important part of church life (See Greg Wills' book "Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South 1785-1900:). Good church discipline rarely makes the news (just like everything else in our culture that is positive). So your lack of knowledge or experience in this realm shouldn't equate to suspicion and the throwing out of clear Biblical passages like Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5.

As for the Calvinist comment, it was petty and below you to make such. It's high time to quit with the cheap shots and actually engage in a mature discussion.

2:56 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Now Michael, I am starting to get the feeling that you cannot engage in a discussion without misinterpreting and then attacking back in a disproportionate manner. Here again you completely misunderstood my comment. You said, "Ah, yes, the final refuge of fundie fear: attack other churches." I didn't attack any church - especially not yours. So for all your bragging I don't really care - IT'S IRRELEVANT to our discussion. My comment was in response to you statement in the previous post: "Every Baptist church I have known has been so desperate for SS teachers that no one was turned away, especially for adults."

I'm sorry, but not being able to be selective in SS teachers is a sign of an unhealthy church. That problem might not be currently visible and God can surely use the church in spite of that, but I would not consider that a healthy and viable church and I would certainly suggest that it will have problems in the future. A healthy church is one where teachers are busting at the seams. And the last 3 churches I have been involved with have had the problem of having more who want to teach than they needed (and I’ve even seen this phenomenon with Mega-churches, where I would think that “taking anyone breathing” might be more likely). And more than that, for me, no Baptist church should ever sacrifice core doctrine for convenience.

And I am sorry, but being Baptist doesn't mean disagreeing on core values. Baptist churches have been in general agreement (especially your anabaptist brethren in the post-Reformation era) on issues such as these and have been willing to discipline members who held to universalism and pluralism (relatively extinct views at that time - and for good reason). Again, this is not a small issue, it affects the very heart of the Gospel, something that seems alien to you, but not to our Baptist forefathers.

Now, in the midst of your rant where you dealt with everything from Lifeway to Mike Huckabee (don't you have a rule on your own website about staying on point?), you said something absolutely absurd. You said,

But you "Jimmy Carter is Satan" folks just give knee-jerk reactions that are spoon fed to you by Al Mohler, Richard Land, and Co. and never actually bother to read the man for himself. What's the word for that? Oh, yeah, "bigotry."

Say WHAT??? I am a bigot??? That is so absurd that it almost not worth commenting about. But I think you should be embarrassed at this comment and I expect you to apologize for letting your emotions drive you to the point of irrational name-calling. And you talk about peacemaking??? You might want to extend your idea of peacemaking to something beyond international war. This is no way to be at peace with your brother in Christ (Romans 12:18). Again, when you think you are attacked you throw off the gloves and start hitting below the belt.

First, your over the top comment “Jimmy Carter is Satan folks” is ridiculous, but you already knew that. Carter has been more than willing to attack the SBC from a theological perspective and he deserves to be criticized back. But attempting to marginalize my position that Carter is wrong by suggesting something so ridiculous is not helpful to this discussion and needs to be cut out by someone who claims to be a student of logic.

Second, you have no clue what I have or haven't read (didn’t you just write a blog accusing me of making false statements and assumptions about you?). I have read parts of Jimmy Carter's books. I am very familiar with his theological views without the help of anyone else. And no, I haven't read them cover to cover. Have you read those with whom you disagree cover to cover either??? Of course not, and I wouldn't expect you to. Carter’s entire books aren’t about theology and I don’t care for him as an author, but I can criticize his views nonetheless, especially when he sets himself apart from historic Baptist doctrine.

Second that is a huge assumption that I am "spoon fed" anything. I disagree with you on issues, but I am no idiot and treating me as such is again very unChristlike. I think for myself, thank you, and I would never claim that you don't either. And ad hominem attacks like that don't aid this discussion - it just shows a lack of willingness to actually deal with the issues and it seems like hypocrisy when you consider that blog post you wrote attacking me.

Finally, you insult your brothers and sisters in Christ with your views about whether we will be in heaven. That makes me wonder if you really get the teachings of Christ. Or of His disciple John:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

My appeal to you is to stop the personal attacks and start respecting your brothers in Christ. You attacked me in a whole blog some time back for making assumptions, misinterpreting you, and "lying" about you. But I have never resorted to calling you names (especially nothing as derisive as "bigot") and I have never suggested that you may perish for your views (and I hold to the traditional Baptist views of heaven and hell). So please listen to Jesus here and treat me as you would like to be treated.

3:05 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...

Big Daddy,

Here is an actual example of church discipline in regards to a Sunday School teacher: Nominating Committee has it reported that a current teacher actively claims to not believe in eternal security of the believer. A committee sub-group--the Nominating Committee being authorized to recommend annually to the church teachers to be elected--visits with the teacher to ask if this is accurate, finds out that it is. The "discipline" is that she is not re-nominated to teach in Sunday School. She is welcome to attend, be loved in the fellowship, and learn, but not teach. Should her beliefs later line up with Baptist doctrine, she would again be eligible.

This is the process I would follow if Jimmy Carter were a teacher in my Baptist church, and I had read reports of, or heard, his pluralist views.

By the way, while by no means an Armenian, I am not what would be considered a Calvinist in Baptist circles.

5:03 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...


I am not a Carter-hater. I have read reports of some of his most recent interviews and meetings. In May, Newsweek reported his statement that "a Mormon is a Christian" and Rabbi Michael Lerner reported his desire that conservative Baptists recognize Judaism as "an equally legitimate path" to God. I have said all along that Carter needs to refute the reports and reporters if he wants to be a leader of a Baptist movement. He has not, so I will continue to point out that he is not qualified to teach Sunday School, much less call for and keynote a great gathering of authentic Baptists.

Michael, what church(es) were you describing in your previous comment --you know, the one(s) where it was cool to disagree about everything--soteriology included--and everyone--Pastor and staff included? Surely not your "home church" because you informed D.R. thusly: "For D.R.'s info: My home church was very healthy and had started 6 other churches in my home county." If you consider the church you described healthy, fine, so now the county has 7 or more churches which are scraping for teachers, whose members disagree with one another about everything, and who enjoy tuning out and turning off the preacher. And you "don't want to belong to any church where that is not the case." This doesn't stack up well with the New Testament according to Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Luke.

I must say, I agree with D.R. You, Michael, sound like the intolerant fundy.

5:32 PM

Blogger D.R. said...


Glad to know you are not from the Middle East :) (Arminians v. Armenian), but BDW was actually talking to me on that (I am a John Piper 7-point Calvinist). But I actually disagree with your instance of church discipline. First, Church discipline is not punitive in nature - it's restorative. The goal of Church discipline is repentence. Now, while I don't like committees at all (I'm Reformed in ecclesiology as well, thus I believe in elder-led, congregationally-ruled churches), I still don't think that the committee should be involved in this.

Ideally, when reported, her elder (or deacon) or the SS director, or the Education Minister should go and speak to her. If it is found out that she teaches universalism, then the goal should be to show her Scripture that refutes this. If she refuses to listen, then she should be confronted by the pastor and more elders. If she continues to not listen, it should be taken to the Church. If she continues to not repent of her unBiblical position, then, and only then, should she be removed of her position. Afterwards, she should continue to be checked in on by another member who will continue to ask her to repent and continue to minister to her.

You see the goal is to get her to repent. By the end of the process, she is either ocnvinced of her error, or she must suffer the consequences of her false beliefs. But with prayer and supplication, the desire is that she will see her error, repent, be restored, and then be a much stronger teacher by being Biblically sound.

The problem with this process is that churches are not set up properly to do such discipline. Far too often discipline is not confined to a private matter in the beginning and is not made public (if necessary) in the end. Thus reconciliation cannot occur and only judgment, sneers, and over-heated feelings result. That is why prayer, proper goals, and a Christlike attitude are essential in the discipline process.

I've seen it done well 4 times. In three of those instances, repentence resulted, with one case going to the point where the couple involved was expelled from the Church, only to return a few weeks later having repented and turned from their sinful lifestyle.

5:39 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...


I'll agree that SBC or any church shouldn't hint at endorsing any political candidate, but won't agree they should not take a position on any political issue--if legislating for immorals such as homosexuality, abortion, racism, gambling, and alcohol abuse is rightly recognized as political.

5:43 PM

Anonymous Chuck said...


I wasn't exhaustive in describing the process, and agree with some of your points.

As I said, the dismissal wasn't immediate, but at the next point of reenlistment. I meant to imply that there was no repentance after discussion and attempts at correction. I don't believe you renominate and reelect a person who is unrepentant in such error.

My current church, even with deacons and not elders, practices discipline with repentance and restoration as its objectives. We've had a success or two, and a case or two where the consequences had to come to pass.

Sorry, BDW, if this is off-topic.

5:53 PM


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