October 19, 2007

Pastoral Ethics

Yesterday, Ethics Daily had an article about some recent comments by Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page. During a sermon, Page mentioned details of private discussions he had with a couple of presidential candidates. Today, Robert Parham has a good column that critiques Page for his comments. Here are a couple of highlights:
Unless presidential candidates want a spiritual smack down, they should avoid talking to Southern Baptist Convention president Frank Page, who failed to retain the pastoral confidentiality of two conversations and then boasted to other pastors about his soul-winning ways. In both cases, Page elevated his own evangelistic credentials and degraded the spiritual character of candidates.

... It's another matter altogether for a preacher to share publicly an exchange of a spiritual nature with a politician, such as the status of one's faith. Private spiritual discussions should remain private.

... As the Christian Right leaders haggle over whether the Republican presidential nominee needs to be a real Christian, Christian pastors should prioritize the confidentiality of private spiritual discussions over the potential for political gain.
Amen! Sometimes the ethical option for a pastor is to keep their mouth shut. Aaron Weaver also does a good job of making this point on his blog.

3 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that Parham feels he is qualified to judge whether Page was boasting or not. Parham's organization is the very one that brought this to light. Had Ethics Daily not made this such a big deal, almost no one would have known about this conversation, which (if you actually listened to the audio - did you Brian?) was such a small part of the overall Q&A session (he spent what? 20 seconds on this?). Which brings up another point - if Page was trying to BOAST about this (as Parham ALLEDGES), why not tie it into a sermon or address in front a large group of people and no merely a small group of pastors in one of the smallest local associations in the country as an aside at the end of a Q&A session (which was not even covered by the blogger who posted the audio)? This sounds more like drive-by slander to me.

    As I said on BDW's blog, why does a public leader deserve to have confidentiality over his spiritual comments, more so than your Aunt Bettie you publically ask prayer for in church on Sundays? After all, don't we publically pray (or at least we should) for the salvation of individuals in our communities, in our areas, and in our nation? And haven't Baptists done this for years? What of the public cry for leaders to repent for years by Baptists on both sides of the aisles? Is it O.K. to denigrate their characters publically based on assumptions, but not share prayer requests for their salvation? The fact is Parham and others have to make a big jump in their minds to make this story into a breach of ethics, when in fact, it was a prayer request about a public leader in regards to what we as Baptists were organized to do - SHARE THE GOSPEL! Or have the "mainstream baptists" forgot their forefathers' purpose in joining together into conventions?

    This is just another example of an attempt at indicting a Southern Baptist over a non-issue. What I want to know is why Ethics Daily didn't focus on other parts of the audio, like the fact that Page notedly pointed out that while he has influence over political leaders, he chooses to make it a priority to share Christ with them, not to play partisan politics (surely that blasts out of the water other assumptions that ED makes about the SBC)? And why not a story about Page's comments on ethical diversity in the SBC, like the fact that he noted that while in N.O. he asked Fred Luter, an African American to run for President - and then boldly declared that if Luter did run, he would indeed WIN!??? NOW THAT IS NEWS!

    I think in the end this makes ED look petty - as if they needed any help in that area. Great Commission Baptists will recognize Page's comments for what they are - a praise that God has given us a forum with public leaders to share the Gospel with them, even if it means meeting them in the political arena.

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  2. d.r.: Thanks for the comment, but I disagree with you. It is wrong for blaming the media for publicizing a breach of ethics. That is the job of a watchdog. It does not matter that he only mentioned it in a Q&A in a small association. He should not have mentioned it at all.

    I have no problem with someone calling on a leader to repent or publicly praying for them. The problem is with sharing the details of intimate private discussions. Page may have intended to simply offer a prayer request but he did more than that and that is where he crossed the line. This is like when prayer request time at church turns into gossip time (which happens and is also unethical).

    I do not think this makes ED look bad. They are continuing to report on issues that others completely ignore and are reminding us about our ethical responsibilities.

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  3. Brian,

    First, I don't think anyone has established that this is clearly a "breach of ethics." And my point about ED's involvement is that they made the story into something that it would never have been had they not broadcast it. It would still be a private prayer request had they not DECLARED it a breach of ethics (without clear precedent).

    And there are still several questions that remain unanswered. Why is so much being assumed in this story? Why does Parham assume that Page is boasting? On what basis can this be demonstrated as a "breach of ethics?" Is there something you can point to in the Bible that clearly defines such a sharing as unethical? How do we know this was a one-on-one meeting or conversation? As I noted on BDW's blog, a private meeting doesn't mean one-on-one. There may have been several in the room, even who were involved in Page and Giuliani's conversation. Did anyone ask Page about this?

    And as for comparing this to gossip, doesn't it have to be established that someone is intending to gossip for it truly to be a sin? Is it gossip really if one sincerely offers a prayer request for a friend by name? Doesn't God determine one's heart? How can one assume to know one's intentions? Isn't that quite arrogant? Shouldn't we give a fellow brother in Christ the benefit of the doubt that his heart was pure in speaking of this?

    I just find it interesting how quick ED and others are to throw their brothers and sisters under the bus without getting their facts straight. Remember the whole Wiley Drake / abortion doctor assassin fiasco? ED didn't contact Drake before they ran the story and then allowed innuendo to be the final word, even after Drake denied having ever heard of the guy. Why didn't ED take the more careful path and contact Drake first? And if we couldn't trust them there, why should we take their word that they did their due dilligence here, especially given that nothing in the article noted that they contacted Page for clarification?

    As clear as some of you guys see bias in Baptist Press, I see it in ED. But while I admit to the bias in BP, I have never heard anyone do anything but defend ED, despite the fact that they criticize the SBC or its members ten times as much as BP takes on the CBF.

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