The president of the Southern Baptist Convention sat for an interview with an openly gay journalist and told him on national TV Oct. 9 that he could not be a good Christian and Southern Baptist.
On the CBS program “60 Minutes,” journalist Anderson Cooper — who has been called the best-known gay journalist on national television news — asked SBC President Bart Barber about same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, both of which the SBC overwhelmingly opposes.
Barber said: “We’re committed to the idea of gender is a gift from God. We’re committed to the idea that men and women ought to be united with one another in marriage.”
Cooper asked: “Do you still believe that gay people can be, should be converted out of being gay?”
To which Barber replied: “I believe that sinners should be converted out of being sinners, and that applies to all of us.” In the past, Barber has been on record supporting conversion therapy, the discredited notion that gay people can be made not gay through therapeutic approaches.
Cooper then asked: “Can somebody be a good Christian, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and be gay or lesbian and married to a person of the same sex?
Barber replied: “No.”
While that answer no doubt was received with affirmation from SBC pastors and many of the laity, it illustrated the complex interplay of political and social values espoused by Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, a rural community northeast of Dallas.
He also believes Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States, even though 60% of white evangelicals dispute that idea.
Barber didn’t vote for Donald Trump in 2016 because he found him immoral, but he liked what Trump did in the White House and changed his attitude. But then Barber was disturbed by the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s role in that and has soured on Trump again. He also believes Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States, even though 60% of white evangelicals dispute that idea.
And while many Southern Baptists are part of the effort to merge church and state today, Barber wants no part of that because he values Baptist history, he said. However, he’s staunchly anti-abortion and said he believes a 10-year-old girl who is raped should carry the pregnancy to term.
Barber’s most notable departure from the evangelical conservative playbook showed up in questions about Christian nationalism.
Cooper played a clip of U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R.-Colo., saying: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church.”
Cooper asked Barber about this and the beliefs espoused by many conservative evangelicals today known as Christian nationalism.
Barber said he does not share that view: “It stands contrary to 400 years of Baptist history and everything I believe about religious liberty. I’m opposed to the idea of Christian dominion, churchly dominion over the operations of government.”
“I’m opposed to the idea of Christian dominion, churchly dominion over the operations of government.”
He added: “I object to it because Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. I object to it because historically every time it’s been adopted it wound up persecuting people like me. Doesn’t stop at persecuting people who are not Christians. It eventually winds up persecuting people who are Christians for whom the flavor of their Christianity is different from that of the government.”
Cooper turned immediately to the issue of abortion, where Barber took a consistently ultra-conservative line.
“Our interest with abortion is not — is not to police everybody’s sex life,” he said. “Our interest with abortion is that we believe that’s a human person who deserves to live.”
Cooper then asked him about the recent case of a 10-year-old girl who was raped, barred from having an abortion in Ohio but was able to obtain one in Indiana. “This is a little girl who, she has a right to life too,” Cooper said.
Barber agreed, but when pressed by Cooper — “Even in that case, you think she should have the child?” — Barber said, “I do.”
Cooper made sure he heard the pastor right: “She should be forced to have the child?”
“I don’t want that to sound like I don’t have tremendous compassion for her and her circumstance,” Barber said. “I wish we could put an end to 10-year-olds being raped. I’m trying to work against child sexual abuse because I think that’s atrocious.”
Cooper pressed him again: “But you don’t see forcing a 10-year-old child to go to term with a baby from rape as abuse of a child?”
Barber replied: “I see it as horrible. I see it as preferable to killing someone else.”
The “60 Minutes” segment began with Cooper and Barber talking about the sexual abuse crisis in the SBC. Barber said he was disturbed by the June report on how SBC leaders had ignored information about predators in churches. He believes his stance on this is why he was elected president
“We didn’t just ignore them. Sometimes we impugned their motives,” he said of those who reported abuse but were not heard. “Sometimes we attacked them. The reason why I’m president of the Southern Baptist Convention is because our churches do not agree with that and have taken action to correct those things.”
In other highlights of the interview:
Cooper asked him, “Do you believe the 2020 election was stolen?” and Barber replied, “No.”
Cooper asked: “You believe Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States?” To which Barber replied: “I do. Absolutely. I pray for him consistently as the president of the United States. I believe he was legitimately elected.”
Barber affirmed his support for legal immigration: “I’m thankful for people who have immigrated. I live in Texas. I’m surrounded by people who are intermarried into our families. They make our community better.”
Of Trump and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, Barber said: “I want to be driven by the principles of Jesus Christ. And that does not involve mob violence. I don’t support that. Anyone who does support that, I’m less likely to vote for them because of their support for that.”
“I want to be driven by the principles of Jesus Christ. And that does not involve mob violence.”
When it comes to the 2024 presidential election, however, Barber was more circumspect about his opinions because he no longer speaks just for himself but for all Southern Baptists, he said.
Cooper asked: “Can a good Christian in good conscience vote for Donald Trump in 2024?”
Barber replied: “I’m not even going to speculate about that. Who are the other choices?”
Cooper then circled back to the larger question of evangelicals’ allegiance to Trump despite his well-documented immorality and more: “Have evangelicals sold their soul in order to support Donald Trump?”
Barber replied: “First of all, I think we had to choose from the choices that were given to us. And that’s an inescapable reality in our political system.”
He later added: “I just think that, under President Trump, (evangelicals) saw less backtracking on the things that were promised to them. I do think that Americans are hungry for strong leadership. I think that there’s opportunity for strong leaders to emerge who give us better choices. I’m praying for that.”
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