The Dishonoring of an Honorable Man

Dr. Morton H. Smith Sleeps

Dr. Morton Howison Smith is with God. He died at the age of 94 and entered the nearer presence of his Savior on the Lord's Day, November 12. His funeral was held on Tuesday, the 14th. And now he rests.

Dr. Smith was a remarkable man - a, husband, a father, a lover of nature, a pilot, a theologian, an author, a preacher, a pastor, an advisor, a denominational executive, a professor. During World War II he trained Army Air Force pilots. He took his Ph.D. under G.C. Berkouwer at the Free University of Amsterdam. He then entered a life of service to Christ.

Dr. Smith's service to the cause of Christ extraordinary. His was varied, long, and manifestly useful labor in the Lord's vineyard. He was a professor of Bible and the head of the department at Belhaven College (9 years), the founding professor and teacher of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (12 years), a founder of the Presbyterian Church in America, the  first Stated Clerk of the General Assembly (15 years), and a founder of and Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (15 years). 

What gets the attention, however, is the profound godliness of the man. He loved the Lord, the Bible, Presbyterianism, and the Reformed faith. He walked consistently according to his profession of faith. I have heard people criticize him, as I have on occasion, but until recent years and the era of political correctness invading the church, I have never heard anyone criticize his Christian life. What stands out most to me is his humility. Not his learning, nor his service, nor the praise given him by colleagues and students engendered in him pride. Of course, I do not know his heart, but it appeared that pride was not a temptation for him. He lacked hubris. He did not promote himself, or stand on his rights, or become angry at slights. He bowed himself before the providence of God even when it meant bearing ingratitude, false representations, mistreatment by those who chose to be his enemies, failure to come to his defence by those who knew the man better than did his critics, and ingratitude by those who owed him much. 

After the funeral I heard from a mature and temperate brother who attended. Dr. Paul Gilchrist, who succeed Dr. Smith as Stated Clerk, and Dr. Roy Taylor, the present Stated Clerk, attended the service. Whether any others who have  served or serve in the administration of the PCA attended I do not know. 

However, my informant told me that not a single representative of Reformed Theological Seminary was present. Not the Chancellor, nor any of the Presidents of the regional campuses, nor any members of the Board of Trustees attended. While the Lord can raise up from nothing what he wills to bring into existence, it is difficult to see how Reformed Theological Seminary could have come into existence or attracted the students it did in the early years apart from the role of Morton Smith. 

How could it be that no one from RTS attended the funeral? I can only guess.

First, Dr. Smith was not the RTS kind of professor. Dr. Smith was an Old School Presbyterian (this is not to say there have not been and are not other Old School men at RTS), who wanted to see the PCA be an Old School Church and RTS be an Old School institution. I believe he thought it was possible for both, but it became evident that neither would be Old School. 

There was a time early in the days of the seminary when the seminary concluded that it was not satisfied with the "product" - that is with some of its graduates who now were ordained, serving churches, and active in presbyteries. I can recall a meeting at which the President and a leading member of the Board of Trustees called several of us to a meeting at the seminary and told us to "cool it." 

Now, who was responsible for these graduates who turned out to believe and practice Reformed theology? Dr. Morton Smith. Once, I had Dr. Luder Whitlock, the second President of RTS, speak in my church for a weekend and preach for a Reformation Day Service. During the weekend I told Luder that what Dr. Smith had given us boys was a system of theology we could learn, understand, and teach. It provided the foundation and stucture of our ministries. Dr. Smith believed what he taught, but he was guilty of none of the sin, stupidity, and foolishness of us young fellows who studied under him. Nevertheless he was blamed for our being Reformed and for our assuming we could reform our churches. 

Dr. Smith was not the sort of professor that RTS wanted shaping future ministers.

Second, Morton Smith was instrumental in the beginning of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I think it is fair to say that GPTS was founded to be what RTS did not become. The powers at RTS did not appreciate that, and, though Greenville was no threat to RTS, there was no love lost between the two institutions. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that RTS would not have wanted any of its leadership to pay last respects to a man who, though he was a key to RTS' existence, was also a key to GPTS' existence. 

Third, Dr. Smith was known to be a principled segregationist who believed his views were consistent with the Christian faith. He was not a racist. He harbored no animosity toward African-Americans. He was toward everyone a Christian gentleman. But he believed that the races should live separately, and he believed that was by God's design. (I am not aware of a single student of his who shared his views.) For all this he has been condemned, especially by young men, who, no less than those of us who were early graduates of RTS were, are certain they are right. (It is interesting that the separation of the races is now promoted by African Americans who believe there needs to be a distinctively African American theology, worship, and church.) 

Dr. Smith has been the target of a great deal of attention, condemnation, and denunciation by some older men but mostly young men, both black and white. In a display of nothing, if not hubris, these men called him to repentance for his views. So strong was their conviction that Dr. Smith was wrong and needed to repent that they hounded him as an old man in his 90s.

Now RTS has been in the forefront of "racial reconciliation" though this seems to have fallen on hard times because of the increasing desire for separation on the part of African Americans. RTS has sought to attract and equip African American students (a laudable goal), and its Chancellor has taken a lead in the cause of "racial reconciliation" (itself laudable, but as it is promoted now much influenced by liberation theology and critical race theory.)

So, if he attends Dr. Smith's funeral, how does the Chancellor of RTS go to Mississippi and face Jemar Tisby and explain why he honored Morton Smith by attending his funeral. How does RTS have credibility among those who men, white and black, who are convinced that Dr. Smith was associated with the great sin of the 20th century, if some administrator(s), or professor(s), or member(s) of the Board of Trustees attended his funeral? How do you recruit students, which every in who share the views of Dr. Smith's critics? 

It's a very practical decision. Honoring Dr. Smith, though he deserves it, is not worth the heat you will take by honoring him. 

So the decision is to dishonor him. 

Does Dr. Smith care? Surely not now. Nor, I believe, would he if he could have lived and known the dishonor that would be shown him at his funeral. He did not court and was not affected by honor or dishonor shown him during his life, so why would he at his death. He was "another man's servant." That other Man is Jesus Christ. 


I Don't Want Any Moore

I've Had Enough

Roy Moore

Evangelicals, political conservatives, and Republicans have been rocked since last Thursday when the Washington Post published a story about Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Roy Moore, that accused him of one crime (which can never be adjudicated because the statute of limitations long ago expired) and of several actions which some regard as improprieties. The alleged crime is that he partially undressed a 14 year old girl whom he then fondled while attempting to get her also to touch him sexually. The other alleged actions are that he as a man in his early 30s showed an interest in and dated teenage girls.

Allegations. Let's first address the matter of his alleged crime and improprieties.

As many have noted, the crime allegation, if true, is a very serious matter. If what is alleged happened, it seems, barring further revelations, that it does not indicate Judge Moore has a "problem" - a proclivity for sexual activity with post-pubescent but young teenagers. So far as we know, there are no other allegations of  this sort of activity. Nevertheless, even if there was one act of this sort, it is scandalous behavior, and good reason for those who have favored his election to reconsider. 

So far as I know, no Republican Senator has joined with those who have defended Mr. Moore. One of the most conservative Senators, Mike Lee, has withdrawn his endorsement. All who have spoken, including not just "establishment" men such as Republican leader Mitch McConnell, but challengers of the "establishment" such as Ted Cruz, have said that, if these charges are true, Mr. Moore should withdraw from the Senate race. The National Review editors and writers David French and Jonah Goldberg have denounced Moore in strong terms and called for him to step aside. 

The response of Evangelical leaders has lacked unanimity. For example, Moore's pastor and Jerry Falwell, Jr., have defended the Judge, while Al Mohler and Russell Moore have expressed outrage (assuming the allegations are true). 

Now Christians must always say that        sins, however great (and Christians have been guilty of much worse behavior than than Moore is accused of), is never beyond forgiveness. Nor should sin against a 14 year old girl 40 years ago, if it occurred, be a millstone around the neck of Moore, regardless of what it means for his candidacy, for the rest of his life. 

We also need to put this charge in the context of the current moral outrage against sexual harassment and abuse as one revelation follows another about both heterosexual and homosexual men. While I do not know of any Hollywood women who have been accused, it seems that every week there is some female school teacher who is accused of taking advantage of her position to pursue sexual relations with male (and occasionally female) students. 

I expect some of these allegations will prove untrue, but in the current context, there is a strong inclination to take them all as true. We will do well to remember the hysteria in 1980s when children, urged by parents, prosecutors, and psychologists, made accusations of very gross forms of of sexual abuse against various caregivers. There were about 80 convictions. Most of those convicted were ultimately exonerated. It is certainly possible that we are experiencing another wave of hysteria and that this has affected the judgments that are being made about the allegations against Mr. Moore.

Regarding the "allegations" of impropriety, I am much more sanguine than others. It seems to me that there is nothing inherently wrong with a man who is 30 looking at a girl or woman, who is or soon will be, of marriageable age as someone whom he might date. One of the best men and friends I have ever known was 30 and looking for a wife. He had not found himself content with making a commitment to or asking for a commitment from any of the "possibilities." One day it occurred to him that a girl who loved horses, who had asked for a job, and whom he had hired in his veterinary practice seemed to have the qualities for which he was looking. (As he sometimes said, she was a good worker.) When her crusty father asked him what his intentions were, he replied, "Honorable." Soon they were married. She was 18 (as was my wife when we married, though I was only 21). Till he died, they enjoyed a solid marriage and an excellent partnership. They had 6 children, and somewhere in there she got her Bachelor's and Master's degrees (at his, not her father's, expense!) She was a strong woman and, as I saw it, a near perfect complement (forgive me, all you anti-complementarians) for him. Now some of those who have their underpants in a wad about a 30 year old dating a teenager with her parents' permission might hope to have a marriage half so happy.

Disqualification. Let's move to Judge Moore's qualifications for office. Even apart from whether the allegation of sexual activity with a 14 year old is true, I do not think him qualified. I expressed this view during the Republican primary. Repeating  the opinions I read at National Review, I think he is neither a conservative nor a Constitutionalist. Further, as I have written before (Roy Moore: God's Man?), he is a lawless man, or perhaps, a law unto himself, or, perhaps we should say, a typical American evangelical (he is a Baptist - see
Protestants Are Too Much like Baptists) who elevates his own conscience above the authority of church or state. 

He has twice been removed as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for civil disobedience. The first time he refused a federal court order to remove a  Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the Supreme Court building. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary said: "Indeed, we recognize that the acknowledgment of God is very much a vital part of the public and private fabric of our country...(but) the highest judicial officer of this state had decided to defy a court order" and, therefore had to be removed. The second time (officially he was suspended for the rest of his term without pay), in defiance of federal court decisions, he instructed probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary found he had violated the Code of Judicial Ethics and wrote: "This case is not about whether same-sex marriage should be permitted...Moreover, this is not a case to review or to editorialize about US Supreme Court's June 2015 decision, a decision that some members of this court did not personally agree with or think was well-reasoned." Rather, they found Moore's action ""grossly inconsistent with his duties" and "incomplete, misleading and manipulative." In fact, these judges found Moore's offenses in this case to be worse than his earlier defiance of a court order. 

I know some Christians will say, "But Judge Moore followed a higher law, God's." Some of the same folks will say, "We need God-fearing men in office." No, he did not follow a higher law, unless Judge Moore's understanding of his duty is to supersede not only federal courts but Holy Scripture (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:12-17, both written with the government of the Roman Empire, and specifically Nero, in mind). Nor is Judge Moore God-fearing so far as these two matters are concerned.

We need in office, not men and women like Judge Moore, but men and women willing to operate under our system of government, to obey the law themselves, and to work for change by lawful means. And those are the sort of people, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of them, we as Christians ought to want to see in office, most especially when those running for office are professing Christians. 

There are few things that could more set back the reputation and effectiveness of Evangelical Christianity than a man who would behave as a Senator as Mr. Moore did as a Judge. 

Politics. Finally, let's take into account the political implications of Judge Moore's candidacy. I begin by saying I am a conservative Republican who does not claim his political views are derived from the Bible. Nor do I believe I am advancing the Messianic rule of Jesus Christ by my political positions and activities. 

So what are the possibilities in connection with Moore's candidacy for the Senate? The best case scenario is that he would withdraw. The Republican Party in Alabama should then identify, coalesce around, and work like crazy for a Republican write-in candidate. Another possibility is that the voters, including Republican voters, will take another look at Moore, decide they don't want him in the Senate, and elect his Democrat opponent (the race has tightened and one poll shows the Democrat with his first lead)

Perhaps the worst case scenario is that Judge Moore will be elected to the Senate. Even apart from the allegations against him, Moore will be a marginalized member of the Republican caucus in the Senate. If the allegations are considered credible by his Republican colleagues, he will be further marginalized, as few, perhaps none, of them will risk contamination. 

Further, if Roy Moore wins, that will embolden Steve Bannon whom I think wants to blow up the Republican Party as it now exists and destroy mainline Republicans. After Moore, Bannon cannot succeed in getting elected many, if any, Republicans of the sort he prefers elected, but he can do a whole lot of mischief trying. 

Further the Democrats could hardly ask for a better Christmas gift than his election as we head toward the mid-term elections in 2018. It will be very easy for them to point at Judge Moore as a Republican and say to the electorate, "Do you want people like Moore in the Congress? Vote Republican!"

If lived in Alabama, and Judge Moore stays in the race, I would face a similar choice as I faced last November. Back then I knew that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would be President. The question was, "Of these two, for which will I vote?" I made my decision and cast my vote. If I were an Alabamian, I would face the reality that either Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones will be Alabama's Junior Senator. I do not believe I could vote for Judge Moore.

The Bulls of Bashan

Strong Bulls of Bashan

Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
                                      Psalm 22:12

Psalm 22 is beyond doubt prophetic of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is also descriptive of the experience of its author, King David. In both cases, that of David and David's greater Son, the Bulls of Bashan are strong and ferocious enemies who surround with the intent to destroy the righteous sufferer.

While the ultimate and redemptive fulfillment of Psalm 22:12 is in the sufferings of Jesus, since it also describes David, who is both a type of Christ also an example of believing faith and experience, it is applicable to Christ's church and people today.

I have been thinking of the Bulls of Bashan for several days - since word came that 94 year old Dr. Morton H. Smith suffered a stroke last Thursday and that tests  revealed that Dr. Smith is also suffering from a brain tumor. To the surprise of his doctors Dr. Smith survived the stroke and today (Monday) is eating, but, as might be expected, but to our grief, the brain tumor will not be treated. Presently an effort is being made to find a residential hospice in which Dr. Smith can finish his course.

I have had a "mixed" relation with Dr. Smith. When I was a kid in seminary and arrived to take the exam for the third quarter systematic theology exam, Dr. Smith was not pleased that I was wearing Bermuda length shorts. He kicked me out, and told me to go home and change. I thought him wrong then, and I think him wrong now. A good number of years later, word got to me that Dr. Smith had criticized me for the position I had taken in defending an interracial marriage. I thought I was right then, and I think I am right today.

But, today, I, who will reach threescore and ten this week (should I be spared till my birthday) can say that through the many years since I graduated from seminary in 1972, and today, while I respect many, there is no one I respect more than Dr. Smith. It is hard to use the word "love" with regard to Dr. Smith, because, while he has always been a gracious Christian gentleman in my dealings with him, I have  never felt what we now call "empathy" and "warmth" from him. But, if love is appreciation, respect, and steadfast loyalty, then I do love Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith was attacked by the Bulls of Bashan a couple of years ago. It was not because of his having in old age turned 
away from Christian or Reformed orthodoxy. In fact his is a stalwart of Biblical faith. It was not because in old age he had turned away from godliness. His is a consistent godliness, and he has only grown to love and reflect his Savior more.  In fact, when I think of a godly old man, no one comes to mind more quickly or naturally than Dr. Smith. No, it was not for lack of Biblical faith or Biblical godliness that Dr. Smith has been surrounded by the Bulls. It is because Dr. Smith, a man born in the South in 1923, believed in and wrote in defense of segregation. You see, mistaken views about race are not only mistakes; they are sins. They are not only sins; they are grievous sins. They are not only grievous sins; they are the worst of sins. 

Now many of these brothers are young Bulls, and, while they are full of bull, they can be excused for lacking the judgment and maturity needed to judge either the times or Dr. Smith rightly. Some, however, including one who went to confront Dr. Smith and to call him to "repentance," are old enough to know better and cannot be excused for a lack of time to develop judgment. The surrounding of Dr. Smith by these Bulls reminds us that, if Dr. Smith can be described as "sinning," he is surely more sinned against than sinning. These Bulls are misguided at best, merciless at worst. What they have done to this old saint is, in any case, inexcusable.

When Dr. Smith was undergoing relentless attacks by the Bulls two years ago, I wrote three Blogs to try to give some perspective and to defend Dr. Smith. If you are interested, here are links to them:

6.24.15 Somebody Must Defend a 92 Year Old Man

6.25.15 Heaven's PCA Hounds

6.26.15 No Country for Old Men

I know that Dr. Smith has other defenders besides this Reformed Episcopalian. What I do not know is if any of the leadership of Reformed Theological Seminary or of the Presbyterian Church in America have risen to his defense. Perhaps they have, but, if they have not, their failure to do so is a great example of ingratitude, cowardice, and not having done what they ought to have done. So, brothers, if you are going to speak up for a godly man, the time is short, and the time to do so is now. 

I have no doubt whatsoever that the God, who vindicated David and David's Son, will vindicate Dr. Smith. I have no doubt that  Bulls of Bashan will finally be put to shame. The Bulls of Bashan are fierce and sometimes they win for awhile, but always they are utterly defeated.

May our Lord grant his servant a safe journey, a peaceful passage, and a happy arrival in the heavenly kingdom.

The golden evening brightens in the west; 
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
 Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
 Alleluia! Alleluia!