Dr. Ben Carson was left out of a Christian pastors’ conference earlier this year in part because his own religious beliefs deviated too much from Christian orthodoxy.
The snub was ironic in hindsight, as Carson is now under fire for saying over the weekend that he didn’t believe a Muslim should be President of the United States because his or her religious beliefs would be in conflict with the Constitution.
Willy Rice, the pastor of Florida-based Calvary Baptist Church, invited the retired neurosurgeon to speak at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference earlier this year. The invite for the June conference came before Carson was a declared Republican presidential candidate.
However, several organizations and individuals within the Southern Baptist community publicly expressed their displeasure with having Carson, a Seventh-day Adventist, address the conference. Those complaints, in addition to Carson’s expected presidential campaign launch, led Carson and the conference organizers to mutually agree to not have him speak at the event.
Rice wrote on his blog in late April that while he didn’t share other people’s concerns about Carson’s faith, “I have heard and respect their concerns and for the sake of unity we have reached a mutual decision with Dr. Carson’s team to forgo his appearance at our Pastors’ Conference.”
“As a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Dr. Carson is publicly identified with theological positions that differ from those of Southern Baptists,” Rice wrote. “While this is true, I believed, and still believe, that leaders gathered for our Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference are open to listening to persons from outside our denomination. I believe most are willing to hear from national leaders even if we disagree on some points of doctrine as we have done in the past, particularly when the point of the discussion is a biblical worldview of prevailing cultural issues.”
Rice added that he and Carson’s camp agreed the doctor’s presence would be an “unnecessary distraction” given his impending presidential campaign launch.
Texas pastor Bart Barber had questioned in a March blog post why Carson had been invited to speak at the conference at all, given the Southern Baptist Church’s views on Seventh-day Adventists.
“Southern Baptists have classified Seventh-Day Adventists not as a church but as a sect,” Barber wrote. “We have stopped short of anathematizing them, but we have identified aspects of their beliefs that are sub-Christian and harmful.”
As for Carson, Barber wrote: “Let’s face it: He’s being invited because he’s a popular presidential candidate.”
Baptist 21, a group of young Southern Baptist leaders, wrote in an April blog post that it was concerned Carson’s presence would perpetuate “perceptions in our culture that the SBC is in bed with the Republican Party.” It also enumerated theological concerns including that Seventh-day Adventists, who keep the Sabbath on Saturdays, have intense disdain for those who worship on Sundays.
The group further cited a Facebook message Carson posted on Easter that asked people to “remember that Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in God.” The post was deleted, but Baptist 21 obtained a screenshot.
“Certainly, we do not all worship the same God – we worship the Trinity whom Muslims and Jews would deny,” the group wrote. “And, the idea that we are all God’s children is at best the type of liberalism the Conservative Resurgence sought to address, and at worst, it is universalism.”
It’s ironic that the Baptist group criticized Carson for being sympathetic to Muslims, given his comments over the weekend about their fitness to serve as President.
“I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” he told The Hill late Sunday. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”