The headline in The Atlantic declared: “The Cost of Ron DeSantis’ Ideological Purity.”
That got my attention, because “ideological purity” is big theme among religious conservatives these days — especially among that group we sometimes call the TheoBros. Those are mainly young theological conservatives who typically identify with Reformed theology and love rules and regulations more than the New Testament Pharisees.
This is the group that has driven the Southern Baptist Convention to the top of a slippery slide into oblivion by demanding theological purity on women in ministry — as in, no women in any kind of pastoral ministry anywhere.
Observers have puzzled why a denomination already shedding members faster than a dog’s winter coat in springtime would drive out its largest church — and other similarly huge churches — by a forced march into the 18th century. The answer: Absolute obsession with theological purity.
We see this also in the abortion debate. On Sept. 1, TheoBro Scott Aniol tweeted: “If any professing Christian politician votes in favor of abortion at any stage of life, he/she ought to be disciplined out of his/her church. #ChristianFaithfulness.”
Aniol serves as executive vice president and editor-in-chief of G3 Ministries and as professor of pastoral theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary — both Neo-Calvinist organizations popular with TheoBros today.
What he’s after is absolute purity on his abortion stance.
That elicited a fact-check from American Baptist pastor and statistician Ryan Burge, who tweeted a chart in reply with this comment:
This is the share of denominations who disagree with this statement: Make abortions illegal in all circumstances. And, thus, under @ScottAniol’s rubric should be removed from their church.
80% of Catholics
74% of Southern Baptists
65% of Assemblies of God
He then showed this chart:
The comments under Aniol’s original tweet and under Burge’s reply tweet were telling. Several said it’s a good thing “the church isn’t a democracy” because clearly the masses of churchgoers are wrong about allowing any form of abortion.
Others picked at specific words in both men’s language, trying to find an out of some sort. Aniol himself was among those who responded that this is further evidence why true Christians never should vote for any Democrat.
We should not be surprised then, that one of the best-known flagbearers for the TheoBros also is a huge advocate for DeSantis both as governor and as presidential candidate. That would be Tom Ascol, the Florida pastor who leads Founders Ministries, a network for Southern Baptist Calvinists.
Ascol failed in his bid to be elected SBC president, but he still carries enormous influence with the far-right sector of the SBC, which is all about theological purity above anything else. He’s currently promoting his own conference where the theme will be “confessionalism,” which he calls “a vitally important topic for churches.”
Which brings us back to DeSantis and that headline from The Atlantic.
The story begins: “You don’t often see someone turn down $346 million in free money. But that’s effectively what Florida’s Ron DeSantis is doing. The Republican governor and presidential candidate has blocked his state from getting energy-efficiency incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act, the signature Biden-administration policy that passed in 2022, Politico noted last week. DeSantis vetoed a request by the GOP-dominated state legislature to establish a $5 million rebate program — a program that is essential to accessing $341 million more.”
“It’s part of many Republican politicians’ strong commitment in recent years to ideological purity … even at the expense of impoverishing and immiserating their own constituents.”
The reason for denying Floridians this money? “It’s part of many Republican politicians’ strong commitment in recent years to ideological purity — and owning the libs — even at the expense of impoverishing and immiserating their own constituents.”
We’ve seen this in Texas, where I live, as DeSantis’ mirror image, Gov. Greg Abbott, has steadfastly rejected Medicaid expansion that would provide health care for 1.4 million uninsured nonelderly adults, 34% of the state’s uninsured nonelderly adult population.
Why reject this free money from the feds that would help poor Texans access health care? Because it was a Democratic initiative Abbott and his allies believe would encourage poor people not to work. Even though most of them are the working poor.
The Atlantic takes up this comparison: “In recent years, conservative leaders have become more rigid. Ten states still have not accepted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, and many of them are deep-red states that show little inclination toward changing their mind. That isn’t to say that voters don’t want the expansion — time and again, when voters in states with resistant governments are given a chance to vote on the matter, they vote in favor. But conservative politicians in those 10 states have calculated that the risk of popular anger is outweighed by their sincere ideological commitments and, additionally, by the political benefits of being seen fighting a liberal program.”
The article concludes: “Republican governors are choosing policies that make the lives of their citizens worse in order to make a point.”
What’s happening in the SBC, driven by the TheoBros, is that and more. While claiming to be in favor of evangelism, they are enforcing policies that will ensure fewer people are evangelized and more are driven from the church. That’s because they don’t care about evangelism any more than DeSantis cares about the welfare of his citizens. Ideological purity is the only thing that matters.
For the TheoBros, at least, there is some divine rationale. They believe they are doing the Lord’s work as sinners in the hands of an angry God. Maybe DeSantis thinks the same. He has said God has sent him to Florida for such a time as this.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global. He is the author of the new book Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves.
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