Todd Starnes takes on John Piper…and it’s truly disappointing

Editor’s note: Mr. Starnes reached out to The First to refute Mr. Heck’s claims that he was tweeting about John Piper. “It’s a long-standing line I’ve used to question Never Trump Evangelicals,” Starnes said. “The entire column is false.” We regret the error and appreciate Mr. Starnes’ feedback, time, and response.

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One of the more memorable moments of the 2008 presidential campaign was when Republican nominee John McCain took the microphone away from a woman supporter who accused Democrat nominee Barack Obama of being an untrustworthy, unchristian “Arab.” Those kinds of sleights were frequently leveled against Obama, and McCain had a habit of squashing each one whenever he heard them.

I rarely found McCain to be a reliable conservative, and never saw much in his career in public office worth celebrating. But, as a believer, I have always appreciated his willingness to stomp on the public questioning of another person’s faith on the sole basis of political differences.

It’s why I was so disappointed to see this recent tweet from professing Southern Baptist, political activist Todd Starnes:

First, let me acknowledge that I’m not naïve. I don’t need anyone to explain to me that Starnes has developed a significant following that is maintained by peddling this kind of divisive rhetoric. If it was merely the standard political tribalism I wouldn’t waste my time commenting.

But make no mistake what Starnes is doing here: he is attacking, through what is called a subtweet, a prominent Christian minister, John Piper. Piper, whose theological and cultural contributions to building the Kingdom of God on earth go far beyond the stunted world of politics, recently wrote a commentary where he outlined his personal convictions on Christian engagement in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Because he did not offer a full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump, because he did not declare it a Christian imperative to vote for the president’s re-election, Starnes found it appropriate to publicly strip him of his evangelical identity. It’s unclear what standard Starnes invoked to make such a determination, or why he felt himself empowered to reign as judge over another man’s soul.

But whatever the case, it’s clear that this was the portion of Piper’s commentary that provoked Starnes’ Twitter tantrum:

I think Roe is an evil decision. I think Planned Parenthood is a code name for baby-killing and (historically at least) ethnic cleansing. And I think it is baffling and presumptuous to assume that pro-abortion policies kill more people than a culture-saturating, pro-self pride.

When a leader models self-absorbed, self-exalting boastfulness, he models the most deadly behavior in the world. He points his nation to destruction. Destruction of more kinds than we can imagine.

It is naive to think that a man can be effectively pro-life and manifest consistently the character traits that lead to death — temporal and eternal.

I have no doubt that Piper’s words, rooted in Scripture as they are, stung Starnes. This despite the fact that Piper, by writing, “you need not be sinning if you weigh matters differently,” showed far more grace to men like Starnes than he received from them.

But let’s be clear that not only is the Fox Nation host lacking in graciousness towards a brother in Christ, he is also fundamentally misunderstanding what he’s saying. Piper is not “equating” the act of child-killing with the act of “rude behavior.”

He is lucidly – and correctly – stating that pride is at the heart of all sin, including abortion. It defies common sense to say you oppose child-killing, or anything else sinful, while actively promoting pride.

In other words, to make it simple, here’s what Piper is doing: he is saying, “just like I cannot, in good Christian conscience, vote for someone who advocates child-killing for convenience, I cannot in good Christian conscience, vote for someone whose moral character – the self-evident fruit of their spirit – reeks of pride.”

Starnes evidently has one non-negotiable (pro-life) when it comes to candidates he deems worthy of his vote. Piper has two (pro-life, humble character). Yet somehow Starnes would have us believe that makes Piper not only less of an evangelical than him, but actually means Piper can no longer be considered evangelical at all.

If this is what just four years of Donald Trump has done to the theological acumen of outspoken Southern Baptists, Piper’s counsel couldn’t be more prescient.

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