SBC President Bart Barber Gives a Lesson in How Not to Repent

James SilbermanSouthern Baptist Convention

On September 15, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bart Barber unleashed a vicious, dishonest Twitter attack against SBC pastor Dusty Deevers. (Watch Deevers’ response to the various attacks here.) One day later, Barber Tweeted an equally dishonest thread against the Abolitionist Movement in general.

On Friday, Barber “repented” on Twitter. Unfortunately, the “repentance” was nearly as bad as the original tirade, and in so doing, Barber put on a clinic teaching us how not to repent.

“A little more than a month ago, I used the word ‘obsession’ to describe @DustyDeevers‘s approach to abortion law, specifically with regard to coerced minors. I repent of that. The word ‘obsession’ not only assumes motivation but also implies something bordering upon mental instability. It’s an inflammatory and accusatory word.

“What makes it worse is that I did it intentionally because I was angry—angry at Deevers’s unwarranted and unprovoked attacks against @LeatherwoodERLC. In my anger, I sought to match Deevers’s own hyperbolic incivility. But my actual job is not to mimic Deevers hyperbolic incivility; my actual job is to imitate Christ’s gracious truth-telling.

“And I know…everyone moved past this weeks ago. But the Holy Spirit has not. And so, I apologize for my intemperate tweeting, I retract the word ‘obsession,’ I thank those of you who called me out on it back then, and covet your prayers for me to do better.”

Repentance is a defining theme in the Abolitionist Movement. Just about everybody has been either apathetic toward or unbiblical (to varying degrees) in their efforts to fight abortion, making repentance something of a rite of passage into the movement. Repentance is so central to abolitionism that the theme of the 2022 Abolition Now Conference was “Repent With Us”, and featured public repentance testimonies from abolitionist leaders like T. Russell Hunter, Blake Gideon, and Jon Speed.

Repentance is part and parcel to the Christian life. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 theses stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This makes learning how to repent importantly crucial to the individual Christian and to the movement to abolish abortion.

Working from Barber’s thread, let’s look at three ways to “repent” that undermine true repentance.

Partial Repentance is Unrepentance

When we repent, we must own everything we did wrong. In The Gospel Coalition, Joel Lindsey writes:

“Deep repentance demands full confession. Though it seems counterintuitive, the only way to be truly covered by Christ is to fully expose your sin. In the process of repentance, we must fight to be utterly transparent before God about the depth and breadth of our sin. Only ruthless honesty will suffice—and lead to freedom and joy.”

Lindsey is writing more specifically about confessing sin to God as the sinner pleads for ultimate justification and righteousness in Christ. But the principle applies just as well to sins committed by a believer against a brother. Confession and forgiveness are crucial to the Christian life and partial confession or forgiveness won’t do. Barber’s partial repentance is merely a bone being thrown to those upset with his thread, without actually admitting the sins that simply must be admitted.

Barber made a handful of bad arguments in favor of incrementalism in the thread, but this section will focus on sins committed. Specifically, Barber sinned against Deevers or abolitionists in the following ways:

1) Lying About Deevers’ “Obsession” and Coerced 16 Year-Olds

While Barber repented for using the word “obsession,” he did not repent of the general accusation that Deevers supports sending coerced 16 year-olds to prison.

Barber wrote: “[U]nless you 100% agree with every jot and tittle of Deevers’s obsession with sending 16-year-old girls to prison for succumbing to the coercion of their parents to have an abortion, he will label you ‘against the innocent preborn.'”

This is the most viciously slanderous sentence of the entire two threads, and the word “obsession” has nothing to do with it. Only a monster would support sending to prison a 16 year-old who has been coerced into abortion. No sane person anywhere supports sending to prison vulnerable people who commit under duress what would otherwise be criminal acts. It’s obviously evil and insane to do so, which makes Barber’s accusation an extremely serious one.

Never in his life has Deevers said anything that could even remotely suggest any degree of support for sending coerced minors to prison. Barber is accusing Deevers of horrifying evil based on nothing but strawmen invented in his own imagination to make abolitionists look bad. This is slander of the highest order, and (if you’ll excuse the author stepping into the article for a moment) it makes me sick to be a member of an SBC church. Barber must repent of this accusation loudly and speedily. His repentance is not complete until he does so to God and to Deevers.

2) A Sleight of Hand and a Deletion of Context

This whole Twitter ordeal began with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) hiring Brent Leatherwood as president. Leatherwood’s hiring is controversial because he signed an open letter in May — which was published online during State House deliberation on the Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act — stating that the ERLC does not and will never support any law which makes possible the prosecution of any woman who has an abortion. The Louisiana bill, which sailed easily through committee with the support of every Republican, was voted down on the floor after the pro-life establishment publicly opposed it. Given the bill’s easy passage through committee, it’s safe to say there’s a good chance it would have passed had the ERLC and other pro-life groups not sabotaged it. (Listen to episode #94 of The Liberator Podcast to listen to us dissect the open letter, and episode #110 to hear our conversation with Louisiana SBC Pastor and abolitionist leader Brian Gunter about the impact of the open letter on the Louisiana State Representatives he was interacting with.)

In his tweet, Deevers wrote that in signing the open letter that helped kill the bill, Leatherwood had “opposed the innocent preborn.” But in his attack on Deevers, Barber insinuated that Deevers was accusing the entire SBC of being “against the innocent preborn.” It is true that Deevers and abolitionists would take issue with certain ERLC-supported legislation and with aspects of various SBC pro-life resolutions. But Deevers was not accusing the SBC generally of opposing the preborn generally. He was accusing Leatherwood specifically of opposing the preborn specifically in Louisiana and in his argumentation at the SBC annual meeting. Barber extracted Deevers’ quotation from its context and applied it as if Deevers was leveling the accusation against the entire convention.

Dusty’s criticism was wholly connected to what Leatherwood did in Louisiana, yet Barber did not address the Louisiana situation once in his entire tirade. That’s telling. He likely knows Leatherwood doesn’t have a theological leg to stand on in his opposition to equal protection, and wants to ignore the entire discussion by shifting the discourse to ground he thinks is more winnable; namely the ground of slandering Deevers’ character and misrepresenting the content of abolition bills. Barber’s repentance is not complete until he repents to God and to Deevers for taking Deevers’ criticism of Leatherwood completely out of context to misrepresent and weaken his argument.

3) Misrepresenting the content of abolition bills

Barber tweeted that an abolitionist will address ectopic pregnancies “in his tweet, but not in his law.” For a refutation of this lie, see the following screenshots of abolition bills in various states provided by Bradley Pierce of Abolish Abortion Texas. Pierce, an attorney and the drafter of most abolition bills, also messaged Barber to ask him for a phone call to discuss the screenshots, messages which Barber opened but did not respond to. Barber knows his statements about abolition bill language is false, but he refused to correct the record in his “repentance.”

Barber’s claim that abolition bills do not address ectopic pregnancies is false. Barber’s repentance is not complete until he repents to God and the Abolitionist Movement of misrepresenting the content of abolition bills.

[Barber also tweeted that abolitionists will not include in our laws protections for women coerced into abortion. His statements here were misleading as well, but wading through the hairy legal concepts involved in that discussion takes more words than will be included in this section of the article. For those who would like to read about that subject, there will be an addendum at the end of this page.]
4) Attacking abolitionists’ motives based on his misrepresentation

Barber did not merely accuse abolitionists of not addressing ectopic pregnancies in our bills, but further accused us of willful deception on the topic: “If an abortion abolitionist succeeds at the legislature, your state won’t be governed by his tweets; you’ll be governed by his laws. He knows that full well. You deserve to know it, too.” So not only did Barber lie about the content of abolition bills, he grounded an attack on abolitionists’ motives in his lie about the content of abolition bills.

By Pierce’s screenshots and explanations from countless others, Barber was speedily and irrefutably shown that his claim about abolition bills was false, but his “repentance” did not include an apology for using his lack of knowledge of abolition bills to accuse abolitionists of attempting to deceive people about the content of our bills. Barber’s repentance is not complete until he repents to God and the Abolitionist Movement for this dishonest attack on abolitionists’ motives rooted in debunked accusations.

5) Calling Deevers a Liar

Barber accused Deevers of not believing his accusation against Leatherwood, and of only criticizing Leatherwood to trick others into not liking him:

“Even @dustydeevers knows that @LeatherwoodTN isn’t ‘against the innocent preborn.’ He’s just hoping that YOU won’t know that. Because honest discussion of the actual issues is not his goal.”

It should be well established by this point in the article that one person here is not honest in their criticisms of the other, and it’s not Deevers.

Deevers wrote that “In Louisiana this spring and at SBC annual meeting this summer, Brent Leatherwood sided against the innocent preborn.” The acts of writing a letter and delivering a speech in support of mothers being allowed to murder as many preborn children as they want with impunity are acts which can be accurately described as “opposing the preborn.” Deevers’ tweet is a true statement that he stands by, as do we here at Free the States, as do hundreds — if not thousands — of SBC pastors.

Barber’s repentance is not complete until he repents to God and to Deevers of accusing Deevers of intentionally lying.

6) Demonic, Focus-Tested Rabble-Rousing

Barber said:

“And it is THAT—this Faustian bargain with the devil of politics, this gossipy accusing of the brethren, this focus-group-tested rabble-rousing that tramples truth in the quest for quote-tweets—that represents one of the gravest threats to the work of the SBC today.”

A more precise description of his own threads, surely not Barber nor anyone else could proffer. But as a description of Deevers, this is — again — sickeningly dishonest.

Deevers is not making any demonic bargain or focus testing anything. He is simply standing on what God’s Word says about murder and partiality. Acting based on focus tests is what politically-minded, pragmatic pro-lifers like Leatherwood do. The only reason a Christian would support allowing women to murder as many preborn children as they want with legal impunity is because their politics are based on the results of public polling and focus tests. There is no Biblical justification for their position, and so they compromise God’s Word to accommodate the blowing of the cultural winds. This is the actual context of the discussion which Barber ignored, and it is inextricably linked to what Deevers tweeted.

Barber’s repentance is not complete until he repents to God and to Deevers of accusing Deevers of making a “Faustian bargain with the devil,” of “gossipy accusations against the brethren,” of “focus-tested rabble-rousing,” and of “trampling truth.”

Performative Repentance is Unrepentance

“For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” – 2 Corinthians 7:8-11

True repentance is spirit-wrought and heart-felt. It mourns the harm committed against the victim. It is eager to confess all guilt. It is indignant at the sin that made it necessary. It is zealous to restore what was broken. It fears the holiness of a watching God. Performative repentance is a public relations show put on for the watching world.

When Barber first launched his attack, Deevers texted him politely asking for a conversation about Barber’s accusations. Barber ignored him. After Barber’s partial, performative repentance, Deevers again asked Barber for a private conversation. Once again, the victim of slander was ignored by the slanderer.

Read Barber’s “repentance” and ask yourself whether you are reading the words of a man humbly grief-stricken and seeking to restore the reputational damage and undo the emotional toil he has inflicted, or whether it is a prideful man making a PR play while continuing to publicly malign the victim. Even the one aspect he did repent of was hardly an apology to Deevers. It reads much more like an apology to Barber’s Twitter followers for a public display of general unwinsomeness.

This is the behavior of a man putting on a show of “repentance” for the Twittersphere, not a man with any remorse for the damage he imposed upon the victim. Repentance must always be precise and directed squarely toward the victim, owning and apologizing for the specific harm done to them.

Continued Finger-Pointing is Unrepentance

Those with kids have likely taught them to apologize without reservation. If your son apologizes to his brother by saying, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you need to stop being so annoying,” you would be right to correct him by instructing him to apologize without pridefully finger-pointing at his brother.

In his “repentance,” Barber continued attacking Deevers, twice accusing him of “hyperbolic incivility” and once of “unwarranted and unprovoked attacks” against Brent Leatherwood. (That Deevers’ tweets against Leatherwood were as warranted as it gets given Leatherwood’s action in regard to the Louisiana bill is not the point here, but is worth noting.)

Barber’s “repentance” expresses obvious disdain for Deevers and zero genuine sorrow for the damage caused to his reputation or the emotional toil of being singled out with viciously slanderous public accusations by the president of the convention. The “repentance” serves not Deevers, but Barber, by continuing to malign Deevers while Barber feigns humility before his Twitter followers. His thread is the opposite of repentance. It is nothing but a continuation of his brutal character assault on Deevers thinly veiled in a display of worldly grief and performative repentance.

Repentance Precedes Revival

Every generation of Christians longs to see revival, and the scriptural pattern for revival always begins with repentance. It is crucial to get repentance right; to do it often and well.

Revival is both an extraordinary act of the Spirit to draw many sinners to himself, and also “the sovereign act of God, in which He restores His own backsliding people to repentance, faith and obedience.” America needs revival in the first sense, and the SBC needs it in the second. Both begin with repentance.

It’s no secret to anyone that the SBC is not a healthy denomination. Worldliness, compromise, malice, and hatred are running rampant through the convention. If a sovereign act of God is coming to bring reformation and revival, it will begin with repentance. Barber has an opportunity to lead by example.


Addendum: Addressing Barber’s claims regarding coerced mothers

Barber tweeted that abolitionists will not include in our laws protections for women coerced into abortion: “If you ask him to protect minors, women coerced by abusive spouses or boyfriends, women coerced by parents, women coerced by their pimps or traffickers, he’ll be glad to put that sentiment into a tweet. He just won’t put it into his proposed law.” Most abolition bills include restatements of existing law which protect those who commit acts under duress, and some abolition bills amend existing duress language to offer clearer, surer protection to the coerced. The exact protection that anyone coerced into committing a crime would receive would be afforded to women coerced into abortion.

Barber asserted that this restatement of existing law within abolition bills would actually afford coerced abortive mothers lesser protection than everyone else gets:

“He’ll tell you that the coerced child or abuse victim or kidnapped sex-trafficking victim won’t be prosecuted because there are already exceptions in murder law for coercion. He won’t tell you that those are ‘affirmative defenses.’ If you add an exception to the abortion law, the coerced 16-year-old or the coerced sex-trafficking victim has the same legal protection we expect as Americans—the state has to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she was NOT coerced in order to convict her.

“If you do NOT add an exception to the abortion law, all the state has to prove is that she had an abortion. Now SHE has to prove that she was coerced. She’d better have the money to hire a pretty good lawyer (like most sex-trafficking victims are rolling in money). For the pimp, though? The parent? For THEM, to convict them of some sort of conspiracy crime in coercing her to have the abortion, the state has to meet the burden of proof, because their coercion is an element of the crime for them.

“I guess that girl had better hope that the pimp wrote down some sort of get-that-girl-an-abortion manifesto that her lawyer can discover and present at court. Otherwise, she’s going to prison, and he’s going home a free man. Why can’t SHE enjoy the same protection under the law as the other people in her life? Why can’t the state bear the burden of proof in HER case just as it does with the case of the parent or the abusive boyfriend or the pimp?”

This is not an accurate explanation of the situation. The abortive mother would enjoy the same protection “we expect as Americans” because the exact same statute that exists already for everyone else would be applied in her case. It is plainly untrue that she would lack the protection enjoyed by the rest of us, though it is true that most states classify duress as an affirmative defense. It is classified this way generally for application to all defendants and crimes. Other examples of affirmative defenses include self-defense, insanity, entrapment, and mistake of fact.

If Barber prefers immunity to affirmative defense as a general rule for all Americans, that’s fine. He’s within his rights to campaign for change in this area. But there is no inequality in the way the abortive woman would be treated and the way all other criminals are treated. The exact same affirmative defense or immunity that “we expect as Americans” in a given state would be afforded to coerced abortive mothers.

Further, affirmative defenses typically only have to meet a burden of the preponderance of the evidence, meaning the defense being asserted is more likely true than not. Some states only require the defense prove a “plausible basis” for the duress and the prosecution must disprove the “plausible basis” beyond a reasonable doubt. This works out in the exact same way as the language Barber is requesting. (Watch Pierce discuss this issue from a lawyer’s perspective at the 24:28 mark of The Liberator Podcast #111.)

Regardless of the inaccuracy of parts of Barber’s argument, this is not a criticism of abolition bills that we have ever heard before, and our livelihood is largely about refuting objections to abolition bills. Of course, we do not desire that any woman having an abortion under duress go to jail. We are open to strengthening the language in this area.

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