McLean Bible Church Congregants Worry About The Direction The Church Is Going
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have a story now of divisions within a single church that suggest wider divisions in many churches. The church in question is a prominent one, McLean Bible Church, where many Washington Republicans worship. It's little outside of Washington, D.C., in Virginia. Former President Trump even attended a service there once. This year, the church had an election of three church elders, which would normally be a sleepy affair. But conspiracy theories and arguments over wokeness divided the congregation. David Roach has been following this. He is pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Ala., and he also writes for Christianity Today, which is how he came to report on McLean Bible Church.
DAVID ROACH: It is a megachurch in the Washington, D.C., area. They have several campuses. Their pastor, David Platt, is very well-known among evangelicals. That church in the past has been called a hub for Republican senators and Bush aides. But David Platt has emphasized that everybody, regardless of their political views or their ethnicity or anything else, should be welcome to hear the gospel and be a part of the church.
INSKEEP: Is that part of what seemed to get him in trouble with at least a portion of the congregation?
ROACH: I don't think that that is directly the issue, but I think that issue has implications for what has gotten him in trouble. David Platt's very strong on the issues that evangelicals traditionally have cared about. He - I've heard him preach on abortion and religious liberty and traditional marriage. But at the same time, he wants to say that there is not one voting requirement for being a follower of Jesus Christ. And even though people who take the Bible seriously and as the inherent word of God should think certain things about certain issues, then they might prioritize those differently when they go into the voting booth.
INSKEEP: This, according to your reporting, seems to have surfaced as a conflict in a way that wasn't directly about the pastor but a kind of church election. What happened?
ROACH: On June the 30, McLean Bible Church was to have an election to elect three new elders. And so the church had never before failed to elect elder nominees that were recommended. The constitution of the church requires a 75% threshold. But there were some who were concerned about the direction of the church, and they made that elder election an occasion to speak out against the leadership and direction generally. And then there was some question as to who is eligible to vote as a McLean member and who is not. They gave out some provisional ballots. And depending on how the provisional ballots were adjudicated, those elder nominees got either just below or just above the 75% threshold.
INSKEEP: Disputed election.
ROACH: Yes, that's exactly right. And rather than try to adjudicate the provisional ballots, they decided the best thing to do would be just to have another vote. So they scheduled that vote for Sunday, July the 18. And all three nominees got at least 78% on that day and were elected as elders.
INSKEEP: I was astonished by some of the conspiracy theories that you described that surfaced during that election campaign.
ROACH: It was a tumultuous time. And there really were some wild conspiracy theories that came out of that. For instance, that they would sell the Tysons location and use it to build a mosque. There were some who expressed the thought that David Platt and the other leaders were soft on issues like abortion and sexuality. During a sermon on July 4, David Platt very intentionally addressed some of those concerns. And he said that there was a group that was trying to take over the church. And it would appear that the vast majority of the church sided with Platt and the other leaders by their support of those elders. I don't think that it was about the specific elders so much as the direction of the church. And the elder vote was the occasion to speak that.
INSKEEP: Given that, what makes this story feel like it has a larger significance in your mind?
ROACH: You can pick out churches across the country where there has been this conflict between people that are sort of an old guard type of evangelical and then a younger type of evangelical that wants to reach a broader, more diverse audience with the Gospel. Some of the older guard think that that's soft-pedaling some biblical truth. But then you have some of the younger evangelicals who say, look. We're teaching everything that the Bible teaches. We just want to give believers freedom to disagree on things that aren't essentials.
And then even within the Southern Baptist Convention more broadly, there is a group called the Conservative Baptist Network that has charged some convention leaders with advocating critical race theory and downplaying the Bible's sufficiency. And the candidate backed by the Conservative Baptist Network at the most recent SBC annual meeting got 48% percent of the vote. So those are some of the manifestations that show this is a larger discussion among evangelicals.
INSKEEP: David Roach is pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Ala., and also writes for Christianity Today. Thanks so much.
ROACH: Thank you, Steve. It's great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.