An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 11, No. 9]
Editor: Bruce T. Gourley, executive director, Baptist History & Heritage Society
The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB) is a free online journal produced by the Baptist History & Heritage Society (BH&HS) and offering scholarly analysis, informed editorials, book reviews, and special features for subscribers. You may access previous issues to or subscribe or unsubscribe from the BSB. Republishing of articles is allowed, but please provide credit and a link back to the Baptist Studies Bulletin.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“A New American God: Eight Decades in the Making”
Part 9 of a 10 Part Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
“Baptist Women in Ministry Report”
by Pamela Durso
“Reflections on Baptists and Culture”
The Birthing of a Phony War on Religion
by Aaron Weaver
“17th Century Baptists and Politics”
The Rhode Island Charter of 1663
William P. Tuck, Modern Shapers of Baptist Thought in America
Review by Paul D. Simmons
“Religion and the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in our Time”
May 20-22, 2013 BH&HS Conference in Richmond, Virginia
Call for Paper Proposals
“Notes and Quotes”
Responses to Current Happenings
A NEW AMERICAN GOD: EIGHT DECADES IN THE MAKING
Part 9 of a Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
While the George W. Bush presidency ended on a sour note for the white Christian Right, the 2008 candidacy of Democrat Sen. Barack O’bama (Illinois) breathed new life and energy into the then-diffused movement. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8 of this series.)
On the surface, the Christian Right’s God and his followers might well have rejoiced in a presidential contender telling Christianity Today:
I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn’t ‘fall out in church’ as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn’t want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals.
This clear Christian testimony from a member of the United Church of Christ, however, came from a black Democrat whose Kenyan-born father had been raised as a Muslim and then converted to atheism as a young man. In the minds of many white conservatives, Obama’s public Christian testimony was phony: the candidate’s blackness, Kenyan family background, and Muslim family heritage (vividly evidenced in his middle name, “Hussein”) was surely proof that Barack Obama was in reality a Muslim, a foreigner, and a socialist — in short, of the devil. By way of contrast, black Christians (whether conservative, moderate or liberal) did not disparage Obama’s Christian faith or question his loyalty to America. The issue of race had been instrumental in the forging of the modern, political Christian Right (as early movement leaders acknowledged), and now racism again moved to the forefront of national politics.
The 2008 election thus took place with a professing Christian Democratic candidate challenging an Episcopalian-recently-turned-Baptist Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain from Arizona (reversing a pattern of Baptist presidential candidates confined to the Democratic Party). While McCain’s relative reticence at discussing issues of faith generated less-than-stellar enthusiasm among the Christian Right, his choice of little-known Sarah Palin, evangelical fundamentalist governor of Alaska, almost instantly galvanized white Christian conservatives. When the votes were tallied in the Bible Belt South, less than 15% of white voters in the Baptist-saturated states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi cast their ballots for the Democratic presidential candidate (an all time low). Nonetheless, Obama easily defeated McCain for the presidency, a victory attributed in no small part to the larger nation’s disappointment with Republican evangelical George W. Bush’s failings as president.
During the 1990s the Christian Right’s hatred of Baptist President Bill Clinton had taken ugly political discourse to a new level. The election and early presidency of Barack Obama, however, brought about a level of Christian Right hatred even greater than that earlier directed at Clinton, much of it funneled through the largely white, Protestant evangelical, “Tea Party” movement.
In addition to bitter hatred of the president, conservative Christians brought to bear, in the larger political landscape, a stark redefining of the historical American concept of religious liberty as extending to all persons. In short, the Christian Right, counting many notable Baptists among its leadership, quickened the theocratic journey the movement had been on for years, expressed in a campaign to restrict religious liberty to conservative Christians only (ironically, a position long ago advocated by the colonial Christian theocrats who persecuted early Baptists). Non-believers, especially Muslims, were not eligible for religious liberty in the Christian Right’s vision of America.
Surprisingly, however, conservative Christian opposition to President Obama’s “contraception mandate” — a George W. Bush administration policy (requiring businesses and institutions to include contraception coverage in employee health care policies) that Obama included in the Affordable Care Act health care law — proved to be an even greater catalyst for restricting religious liberties. Under Bush, the policy had not been controversial. And unlike Bush, Obama made exceptions for churches and religious organizations. Nonetheless, conservatives suddenly became outraged when Obama adopted the Bush policy. Seeking judicial action, conservative Christians flooded America’s court system with lawsuits in an effort to deny religious liberty for all. The lawsuits argued that private and public institutions and businesses (whether non-profit or for-profit) that serve the general public but are owned or operated by a Christian(s) who does not believe in birth control, should be allowed to deny employees, students and customers access to birth control in health insurance policies (i.e., the Bush-now-Obama contraception mandate) on religious grounds in order to avoid violating the business/institutional owner’s personal religious convictions.
In addition to defying the contraception mandate, the Christian Right during the Obama presidency ratcheted up the utilization of politics and judicial courts in an effort to legally impose many standard conservative religious beliefs upon the American people at large, including:
- legal restrictions on homosexuality and eradication of same-sex marriage
- promotion of creationism over evolution in public schools
- legal favoritism of conservative Christian beliefs in public schools
- outlawing abortion (one Baptist politician declared that some rapes are legitimate)
In the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, Christian Right leaders (Protestant and Catholics alike), under the guise of “Values Voters” and evidencing renewed urgency, painted doomsday scenarios should Obama win re-election. Comparisons of Obama to Nazism and fascism, common during the 2008 election, became popular yet again. In the words of one Catholic priest:
“The national election in 2012 will either give Christians one last chance to rally, or it will be the last free election in our nation. This can only sound like hyperbole to those who are unaware of what happened… to Western Europe in the [fascist] 1930′s.”
Hatred of Obama and the rush to restrict religious liberty to theologically, socially and politically correct persons only, in turn, led to the surprise marriage of the Christian Right’s God with polytheistic, clearly unorthodox (thus heretical) Mormon theology. Weeks before the 2012 presidential election and following a personal visit with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (a Mormon), Billy Graham, veteran public dean of Baptists and evangelicals in America and a long-time and leading proponent of the New American God of the Christian Right, recanted his belief that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. Graham’s changed theological convictions reflected a larger movement among conservative evangelicals to the placing of their faith in a Mormon candidate for the presidency (previously an unthinkable position) in hopes of defeating a sitting Christian president in order to further a theocratic-leaning political agenda.
Thus, eight decades in the making, the New American God of the Christian Right, facing the prospect of yet another political defeat, in the fall of 2012 underwent a metamorphosis, allying with polytheism and heresy for the sake of unseating a (perceived) satanic Barack Obama. The level of religiously-themed discourse and biblically apocalyptic imagery surrounding the 2012 election, however, masked an unfolding counter-reality: the number of Americans identifying themselves as atheists and/or claiming no religious affiliation reached an all-time high of 20%. At the ground level of the American experience, in short, religion was falling out of public favor even as the battle for God at the ballot box escalated to new heights.
Next Month: Part 10 of this 10 part series
BAPTIST WOMEN IN MINISTRY: THE NUMBERS ARE UP
By Pamela Durso, Executive Director, BWIM
Official and recognized ministry leadership by Baptist women is on the rise. Baptist women are slowly but steadily making progress in finding churches that affirm and celebrate their God-given gifts, and perhaps the most visible progress is that the numbers of Baptist women serving as pastor or co-pastor have grown in the past seven years. In 2005, I started keeping a list of all the women I knew who were serving as pastor or co-pastor of Baptist churches. As a researcher and a historian, my list-keeping grew out of research that Eileen Campbell-Reed and I did in 2005 for the first State of Women in Baptist Life report that was commissioned by Baptist Women in Ministry.
I have kept this list ever since—faithfully updating it every time a woman is called by a church, deleting names of women who have retired or moved to a new church position or walked into a new season of life outside ministry. Women on the list affiliate with four Baptist bodies: the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. American Baptist women pastors are not included, given that the ABC-USA keeps really good records so there was no need to duplicate that really good work.
When I began my list-keeping in 2005, I discovered that 102 women were pastoring or co-pastoring churches in the four denominational bodies mentioned above. The next year Eileen and I completed another report, and the overall number of women pastors increased to 117. In 2007, we wrote yet another report, and the number fell to 113. In 2010, Amy Shorner-Johnson and I worked together on another State of Women in Baptist Life report. The list now had 135 names. Throughout 2011, the list kept growing, and in August, I added Carol McEntrye’s name to my list. She is the new pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri, and with her name added, my list now stands at 150! There are 150 women serving as pastors and co-pastors in the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF.
The numbers are up. The overall percentage of churches calling women is rising. Progress is being made. Some of that progress is due to cultural shifts. Baptists and Baptist churches were influenced by the women’s movement of the 1970s and by the increasing visibility of women in all facets of public life from politics to medicine to business. But progress has also occurred because of reinterpretations of and new insights into biblical and theological teachings on gender roles. And finally, the greater openness in Baptist life to the leadership and ministry of women surely cannot be explained with acknowledgment of God’s calling and gifting of women—and sometimes numbers do tell the story of when and where and how the Spirit has been at work.
Aaron Weaver is a doctoral candidate in Religion, Politics & Society at Baylor University. Weaver blogs at The Big Daddy Weave and is the author of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom (Smyth & Helwys, 2011).
Back in March, I penned a column chronicling the phony claims of Southern Baptist leaders that President Obama was waging war on religion. These Southern Baptists were riled up over the controversial “contraception mandate” of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) that requires most private health care plans to cover—with no co-pay—Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods. Churches and other houses of worship are exempted. Additionally, insurance providers are required to cover the contraceptive services if non-exempt religious organizations such as hospitals and universities choose not to.
Timothy George of Samford University dubbed the mandate the “greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime” while Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler proclaimed that President Obama had “trampled religious liberty underfoot.” Echoing then Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, Richard Land announced that the Obama Administration had “declared war on religion.”
Since then, more than two-dozen lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the “contraception mandate” on religious freedom grounds. On September 28, a federal judge in Missouri dismissed one such challenge from business owner Frank O’Brien. O’Brien, a devout Catholic, is the sole owner of O’Brien Industrial Holdings, a for-profit ceramic materials company with over eighty employees. Since O’Brien Industrial Holdings is not a religious employer and unable to obtain an exemption, the company filed a lawsuit arguing that its rights had been violated under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment.
Baptists especially should be familiar with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). From 1990-1993, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty led an interfaith coalition of faith groups that successfully pressured Congress to pass this important legislation, co-authored by the BJC’s Oliver Thomas. RFRA prevents the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion unless the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
In an interesting twist, the federal judge hearing this case had to assume, arguendo, that O’Brien Industrial Holdings could even make a religious liberty claim under RFRA. After all, can a secular corporation really “exercise religion”? The company contended that the court had to presume that corporations were considered “persons” in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 which applied the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to corporations.
Judge Carol E. Jackson, a Republican appointee, found that the contraception mandate did not substantially burden the company’s assumed right to the free exercise of religion. Jackson’s determination hinged on the meaning of “substantial.” What constitutes a “substantial burden” on a person’s religious freedom? Citing previous federal rulings, the judge stressed that the word “substantial” implies that the burden on religious exercise “must be more than insignificant or remote.” For example, in the historic case of Sherbert v. Verner (1963), Adell Sherbert, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was forced to choose between working on Saturday, her Sabbath, or forfeiting unemployment benefits. The Supreme Court held that this was indeed a substantial burden.
RFRA, according to Judge Jackson, “is a shield, not a sword [that] protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religious requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” Jackson explained, “RFRA does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own.” Rejecting the RFRA claim, Jackson noted that an employer’s contribution to a health care plan has “no more than a de minimus impact on [O’Brien Industrial Holdings] religious beliefs than paying salaries and other benefits to employees.”
This recent ruling reveals the nuanced nature of church-state jurisprudence. What is a substantial burden? What is a compelling governmental interest? These questions are central to most religious liberty cases. Yet, when religious freedom is discussed in the public square, we rarely get nuanced, civil, reasoned discussions. Instead, we get not-so-thinly-veiled Nazi references and “war on religion” talking points. As religion journalist Sarah Posner recently tweeted: “The hyperbole is hyperbolic!”
On-going conversations about what religious freedom means and looks like in our increasingly pluralistic society are needed in Baptist life. What we do not need is more hyperbole, more incivility and more partisan talking points. These questions about our cornerstone freedom are extremely important. We all suffer when this First Freedom is politicized and reduced to merely another issue in a political platform or culture war agenda.
Editor’s Note: As the 2012 United States presidential elections approach and some Christians disparage church state separation in an effort to marry politics and state, Americans would do well to remember the work and witness of early colonial Baptists in the realm of politics. True Christianity, according to the early Baptists, is possible only when faith is voluntary (rather than coerced), while voluntary faith depends upon the exercise of a free conscience that God bestowed upon all persons. The actual realization of freedom of conscience, however, can only be guaranteed by the enactment of religious liberty for all through civil laws. As a tiny, persecuted sect, the early Baptists in America realized the daunting task they faced in securing freedom. Theocratic, orthodox colonies despised and persecuted Baptists for their heretical views of human liberty: freedom of conscience, democratic principles, believer’s baptism, religious liberty for all and church state separation. Yet the first Baptist in America, Roger Williams, boldly led the way in creating a home for Baptists and other dissenters by founding the colony of Rhode Island in 1644, a colony whose civil laws enacted Baptist freedom convictions for all citizens. Angered over liberties thus granted, Christian theocratic politicians in neighboring colonies set about to destroy the rebellious colony. Against all odds, Roger Williams and John Clarke, the pastor of the Baptist church in Newport, labored hard and long — and prevailed against threats of death from neighboring Christian colonial authorities — to obtain a second, more secure charter from the King. In 1651, with persecution of Baptists growing ever the more, Clarke resigned his pastorate and sailed to England with a new charter in hand — a document more firmly enshrining Baptist freedom convictions. For twelve long tumultuous years Clarke stayed in England, seeking the official authorization of the revised Rhode Island charter. Finally, on July 8, 1663, King Charles II sanctioned the charter, granting the freedoms desired by Baptists and the other dissenters for whom Rhode Island was their home and only refuge. Williams, Clarke and all other Rhode Islanders, although now secure in their land and fully free to worship according to the freedom of their individual consciences, could not have known that one day their Baptist freedom convictions would be written into the founding documents of a new nation, the United States of America.
(Following is an excerpt from the Rhode Island Charter of 1663)
…And whereas, in their humble address [the petition for the charter, signed by Clarke and twenty-two other Rhode Islanders, many of whom were Baptists], they have freely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty. Now, know ye, that we, being willing to encourage the hopeful undertaking of our said loyal and loving subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects and to preserve unto them that liberty, in the true Christian faith and worship of God, which they have sought with so much travail, and with peaceable minds, and loyal subjection to our royal progenitors and ourselves, to enjoy; …our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matter of religious concernments, …
Book review by Paul D. Simmons
Baptists interested in good history may already have heard the good news of another book from the prolific pen of William P. Tuck, retired but never resting on his laurels. Tuck is a former pastor of the St. Matthews Baptist Church, Louisville, KY (and others) and former professor of Christian Homiletics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest contribution to Christian life and thought is entitled Modern Shapers of Baptist Thought in America. Tuck selected 24 prominent Baptists representing the wide spectrum of opinion and theological influences among Baptists. Across the board, from the most liberal to the most rigidly fundamentalist, these leaders rose to prominence in American religious circles through their speaking and writings. One could hardly disagree that they have been influential “shapers” of Baptist thinking and practice in the modern era.
The reader might quarrel with the wide net tossed over such diverse thinkers so as to claim them as “Baptists.” Surely there are defining commitments or beliefs that would exclude some of those elected. Foy Valentine, for Instance (who is not included in this collection) had a habit of drawing the line with beliefs about and commitments to the separation of church and state. Roger Williams, briefly a Baptist, would thus be the standard bearer of what it means to be a Baptist. By that standard, numbers of those included by Tuck would be excluded. But Tuck chooses to allow the person to claim his or her own identity or affiliation. Fair enough, since all will go down to death together and may be buried together in a place where markers say they are a Baptist, no matter what others may say.
Will Campbell will rightly squirm, as do many others who think that the term Baptist is too important historically and theologically to slap on just any theocrat who claims to be a Baptist. Since we lack any definitive ecclesiastical way to decide who is and who is not a Baptist (much to the chagrin of the Takeover Crowd), we will likely settle for the fact that many are embarrassed by being associated with those they suspect of dog-earing the term. If there is any comfort, we can each recognize that there are those who are as uncomfortable with our presence, as we are with theirs. The wheat will have to grow with the weeds until a wiser judge arrives on the scene (and we can even disagree about whether that will ever happen.)
Tuck was commissioned to put this book together by The Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies at the University of Richmond, VA, of which he is a graduate. The Tucks now make Richmond home which assures an ever-closer bond between the writer and his Virginia constituency. Emily, Bill’s wife of 50 years, might also have been included in this parade of witnesses, since she has been and remains active among Baptists as a speaker and organizer.
In a similar manner, readers will wonder why certain others were not chosen for inclusion in the book. Such speculations are welcome and encouraged but the book will stand such tests on its own merit. Harvey Cox, Frank Stagg, W. A. Criswell, Jerry Falwell, Martin L. King, Jr., and Carlyle Marney are among the notables whose influence and Baptist bona fides are acknowledged. Tuck treats them fairly, though readers can tell his level of appreciation varies from writer to writer. Differences of theology are noted but presented with an even hand. Baptists are a varied bunch in their views from everything from biblical authority and eschatology to the ordination of women and the place of gays in the kingdom (see the chapter on Peter Gomes). Baptists themselves resist any easy reconciliation of points of view.
Women are also included in Tuck’s pantheon (those who do not like that should read these chapters carefully and prayerfully): Molly T. Marshall, Alma Hunt, Addie Davis and Julie Pennington Russell all help lead Baptists in new directions. And former President Jimmy Carter is rightfully recognized for being a world leader in human rights–a Baptist distinctive, though the public would hardly know it from public comments and writings on current issues.
Tuck’s book should be on every Baptist’s reading list. There are volumes to be learned from sifting through these pages. Pastors, Sunday School teachers, leaders of discussion groups and a host of others in our churches will find food for thought and ways to plan solid programs and discussions that may well lead to better understandings of who we are and what constitutes the Divine Command for our time. We are all indebted to Tuck for this solid study in Baptist history and thought which is a challenge for intelligent and prayerful response.
Overview of Conference:The 2013 Annual Conference of the Baptist History & Heritage Society, “Faith, Freedom, Forgiveness: Religion and the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in Our Time,” will be May 20-22 in Richmond, Virginia.
The conference is co-sponsored by the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, and hosted by the University of Richmond, Virginia Union University, and local Baptist congregations. Featured speakers include Harry Stout (Yale University), Edward Ayers (University of Richmond) and Andrew Manis (Macon State).
For more information regarding the conference, visit the conference webpage.
Submit Your Paper Prospectus by December 19, 2012: The Baptist History & Heritage Society invites submissions for papers for its annual 2013 conference to be held May 20-22 in Richmond, Virginia. This is an open invitation for paper proposals. The conference will explore the relationship of religion to the American Civil War and Emancipation, as well as the dynamics of religious faith as related to the continuous journey of racial reconciliation in America. The exploration of religious themes includes, but is not limited to, the Baptist faith. Paper proposals should explore one of the three conference emphases:
- Religion and the Civil War
- Religion and Emancipation
- Religion and Racial Reconciliation
Paper proposals should be 500 words or less in length and focus primarily on one of the three broad topics above, although paper proposals that intersect more than one of the three topics are welcome. Proposals should be accompanied by a CV. Submit proposal and CV to BH&HS President Delane Tew at email@example.com, no later than December 19, 2012. Information about previous annual conferences is available here. Please direct any questions to BH&HS Executive Director Bruce Gourley.
Image: African American Troops Liberating Slaves in North Carolina (Library of Congress)
“Through the [political] process, we change the culture. Our goal is to foster that culture that’s conducive, not just for righteousness but ultimately for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Kerry Messer, legislative liaison for the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), criticizing the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, and explaining the necessity of using secular politics to force a particular brand of Christian faith upon American citizens. (link)
“This is a Christian town, mostly… All our kids go to church; they support it. And it’s encouraging kids who don’t go to church to go to church.” Cody Merchant, a high school student in the East Texas town of Kountze (population: 2,123), arguing for the right of public high school cheerleaders to hold banners with Christian Bible verses during football games. Statistics indicate that about 59% of Kountze’s citizens are affiliated with any religion, and of the 59%, some 69% are Southern Baptists. The town is embroiled in legal controversy over the Christian banners, and there is no word on whether supporters would welcome banners bearing Islamic, Hindu, or other non-Christian scriptures. (link) and (link)
October 30, 2012 — Texas Baptists Committed annual meeting in Corpus Christi at the American Bank Center. The theme is “Going Forward” and David Hardage, BGCT Executive Director, is the guest speaker. Reservations by October 22 required. More information.
November 4-5, 2012 — CBF Georgia Fall General Assembly, First Baptist Church, Griffin, Georgia. Bruce Gourley will be leading a breakout session entitled ”From George Washington to Barack Obama: Baptists and Presidential Elections.” More information.
April 5-7, 2013 — Alliance of Baptist Annual Gathering: “Little Altars Everywhere: Creating, Learning, Forming.” First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina. More information.
May 20-22, 2013 – BH&HS Annual Conference, “Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation” (University of Richmond)
November 14-16, 2013 – Judson Conference 2013, a joint conference sponsored by the American Baptist Historical Society and McAfee School of Theology. More information.