By Bob Allen
A Texas Baptist pastor says in a YouTube video that a Southern Baptist seminary president should apologize for endorsing an atheist group or be censured by his board of trustees.
Randy White, pastor of the 2,500-member First Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, said Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin should “repent” for his recent online affirmation of Openly Secular, a campaign to improve the image of non-believers led by atheist activist Todd Steifel.
“I hope he’ll repent of it and say he was completely wrong — ‘I never should have done that’ — and move away from that,” said White, whose church gave more than $384,000 to Southern Baptist causes in 2013. “If he doesn’t, I hope the trustees would move him to do so, because it’s very hard to send the money more and more and more continuing on when this is the kind of direction that it is going.”
Akin, who met Steifel a few years ago through a mutual friend, says in a two-minute video on OpenlySecular.org that while evangelical Christians have many differences with secularists, they agree on everyone’s right to freely express their beliefs and can work together on issues like poverty and care for the environment.
White, a self-professed “gadfly at the Southern Baptist Convention” who in the past has publicly criticized priorities of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and LifeWay Christian Resources, said Christians and secularists have “a fundamentally different worldview” that are “mutually exclusive” of one another.
“The worldview of OpenlySecular.org is that there is no God,” White said. “It is that there is no sin. There is no morality. There is no image of God in man, thus there is no human dignity.”
“This is the worldview of OpenlySecular.org,” he continued. “How in the world can we as Southern Baptists come and say, ‘but we can work together on poverty, we can work together on caring for the planet’ which are more and more the things of interest? We are throwing all of our worldview away to say we can work together on these issues that aren’t really even a part and purpose of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
White said he attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when Russell Dilday was president. He described Dilday as “a gentleman if there ever was one,” who nevertheless eventually lost his job because he was a theological moderate in what was becoming a conservative denomination.
“I am convinced in those days, had Dr. Dilday given any kind of a ‘we can work together with openly secular people’ — with people of a completely different worldview — he would have been fired much earlier than he was actually fired,” White said. “Now we’ve come around and this is the way it goes every day.”
First Baptist Church in Katy has built a strong reputation for denominational support in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In 2013, White said, the church gave $384, 276 to Southern Baptist causes through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong mission offerings.
“That means we’ve got to be concerned,” he said. “We don’t put $384,000 towards anything else, and so we’ve got to come and say: ‘Where is it going? What’s the agenda? What are we spending our money for?’”
Steifel, heir to a family business who has donated millions of dollars to secularist causes, posted a comment below White’s video saying the pastor simply proves the need for Openly Secular.
“You are essentially calling for Dr. Akin to lose his job because he dares to think people with different beliefs can work together in harmony,” Steifel said. “Further, you slandering people who are openly secular by saying we have ‘no morality’ is grossly unfair. My morality says we should love each other as human beings even if we disagree on important issues. My morality says it is wrong to call for someone’s job when they call for loving their neighbor. Apparently, you disagree. I wonder whose morality Christ would agree with more, yours or mine?”
Atheist groups including the Richard Dawkins Foundation applauded Akin for appearing in the Openly Secular campaign. Godless in Dixie blogger Neil Carter called it “the first time in recent memory that I’ve heard a Southern Baptist spokesperson embrace a fully consistent view of religious liberty, extending the concept even to those of us who do not share a belief in supernatural beings.”
Southeastern alum Matt Capps, brand manager for The Gospel Project and teaching pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., defended Akin in a blog for Baptist-21, a group sponsoring a panel discussion including Akin June 15 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
“In an increasingly secularized world, we as Christians need to avoid the two extremes of withdrawal and condescension when it comes to cultural engagement,” Capps said. “I believe that Akin is modeling a Pauline approach to cultural engagement by appealing to shared convictions and beliefs (Acts 17). And I believe there is scriptural and theological evidence to affirm what Akin says.”
Amy Whifield, director of communications at Southeastern Seminary, said Akin is out of the office with his family and unavailable for comment.