May 24, 2018
Dr. Jack Graham
Prestonwood Baptist Church
6801 Park Blvd.
Plano, TX 75093
It has been some years since we last visited on the phone, and even longer since we had a chance to visit in person. This time and distance have not diminished my great respect and appreciation for your consistent kindness to me, your graciousness when we have disagreed, and your steadfast Christian character. I shall not soon forget the night I met your precious wife, Deb, in the bookstore of Prestonwood Baptist Church. She is a treasure to your ministry, and your ministry a treasure to the Southern Baptist Convention and the greater cause of the Gospel.
It is with sincere anguish of soul, therefore, that I am compelled to write this present letter. For weeks, I have agonized over the growing sense the words that follow herein are both necessary and beneficial for you. It may be presumptuous of me to believe that they could sow seeds of righteousness in your own heart; and it is not without evidence of the many motes in my own eye that I now struggle to find the right words to identify potential splinters in your own.
Beyond that, I’m trying my very best to obey the pastoral commands of Paul: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as a father.” Having lost my own father when I was thirteen years old, I confess the absence of that perduring filiation has confounded my judgment on more occasions that I can recount. So I ask your forgiveness should my approach in this matter seem clumsy, or my words imprecise, or my tone harsh.
In February 2017, I learned that you led Prestonwood Baptist Church to consider making “major changes” to your support of the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason for your action was clear: a perceived “disrespectfulness” on the part of the ERLC President Russell Moore toward “Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present.”
Prestonwood’s executive pastor amplified the church’s position further: “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
By taking this temporary action, Prestonwood withheld as much as $1 million in Cooperative Program support. That translates to nearly $250,000 in lost revenue for the International Mission Board at a time when missionaries were being recalled because of reduced revenues. Thankfully, this decision was reversed within a few months, and Prestonwood resumed support of the Cooperative Program without designation.
The message was clear. When a Southern Baptist Convention entity and its leader make public statements and take “significant positions” that are in conflict with the “beliefs and values” of Prestonwood Baptist Church, you will apply a tourniquet to your church’s mission funding stream to negotiate a course correction.
The present crisis at your alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary may, in fact, constitute “significant action.” Moreover, the statements of its erstwhile president regarding spousal abuse and the sexual objectification of minors may be construed as “disrespectful” of women. The trustees of that institution have elevated — rather than removed — the man charged with these offenses.
More than 24 years ago, you were outspoken in your disagreement with the Southwestern Board of Trustees. Your public silence during this present conflict is both evident and discouraging.
I am sympathetic with your pastoral caution to get involved in this matter. Following the tenure and tumultuous departure of a highly-respected Prestonwood pastor with a history of a sexual improprieties could make any minister think twice before addressing such matters. Moreover, I recognize past critics have attacked your character and commitment to justice for sex offenders with aggressive, unyielding scorn.
But I must ask you, pastor, do the statements and actions of a respected Southern Baptist leader about the immorality of the President of the United States reach a higher level of evangelical concern than the mistreatment of women and children?
Does the alleged coverup of rape not rise to a similar level of corrective action?
The evidently disproportionate response that you have given to each of these matters is confusing. Have Southern Baptists come to a place where public disagreement with a Republican candidate for president is of greater concern than the abuse of women, the sexualization of minors, and the perversion of complementarian theology to substantiate the same?
Pastor and friend, I beg you to consider how this incongruity undermines the Gospel and the effort of Southern Baptists to make Christ known among the nations.
I remain, as always, a younger brother grateful for your courage in the past and your leadership in the present.
Benjamin S. Cole