An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 11, No. 2]
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 2 of a Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
“Reflections on Baptists and Culture”
Competing Baptist Visions of Religious Liberty
by Aaron Weaver
“Baptist Books Update”
Mercer University Press Book Signings at the BH&HS Conference
Cancer and Healing: Memoirs of Gratitude and Hope
Charles W. Deweese, editor
Nurturing the Vision: First Baptist Church, Raleigh, 1812-2012
W. Glenn Jonas, Jr.
Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War
Bruce T. Gourley
“Notes and Quotes”
Responses to Current Happenings
A NEW AMERICAN GOD: EIGHT DECADES IN THE MAKING
Part 2 of a Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
The June 14, 1954 addition of the phrase “Under God” to the American Pledge of Allegiance represented a watershed event in the history of the United States, a nation whose founders had intentionally avoided mentioning God in the country’s founding documents while establishing the world’s first secular nation, separating church from state. Not only had the Founding Fathers confounded the world by establishing a secular nation, they codified freedom of religion as a founding principle, a corollary to church state separation.
What the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen was a future in which an altogether different kind of secularism — communism, an atheistic political system hostile to religion — would pressure forces within the United States to wed evangelical religion with right-wing politics and capitalism.
Such a marriage of odd bedfellows also never occurred to Scottish social philosopher and father of capitalism, Adam Smith, a contemporary of America’s Founding Fathers. In his early writings, Smith, an advocate for the working class, developed his concept of “an invisible hand” that should naturally (but not necessarily intentionally) lead selfish individuals with over-abundance to spend their wealth in ways that would benefit the poor. Later, he acknowledged the fallacy of believing that most self-interested elites would in reality spread enough of their wealth to generate sustenance for the masses. Indeed, Smith warned that too great a wealth gap between the rich and poor inevitably leads to national destruction. Hence, he advocated progressive taxation (with the rich bearing a larger share of the tax burden); state oversight and regulation of commercial activity (primarily banks and merchant companies in Smith’s day); anti-monopoly laws; universal government-funded education; and worker rights (knowing that owners would tend to gravitate toward worker exploitation).
Karl Marx, a nineteenth century intellectual and economist who birthed modern communism, took to heart Adam Smith’s warnings against unfettered capitalism — to the point of dismissing capitalism altogether as the enemy of the working class. Under V. I. Lenin, Russia in 1917 set out to enact Marx’s ideology, setting up a stark conflict between capitalism and communism. By the 1950s, the clash of ideological and economic systems led the captains of American capitalism to forsake Adam Smith’s balanced capitalism in favor of a new version untethered from restraints and veneered with patriotism.
Using their vast wealth, many capitalists actively sought to steer national politics and suppress worker unions in order to become yet more wealthy and powerful. Yet the capitalist elites needed populist support, and a willing partner among the masses stood ready: America’s Christian Right, haters of godless communism. By bankrolling non-profit Christian organizations and evangelists who denounced communism and socialism while preaching a gospel of the self-made man, America’s financial elites thus manufactured a trifecta of Christianity, politics and wealth.
The years immediately prior to the revised American Pledge of Allegiance were characterized by the formation of many new anti-communist Christian organizations financed by wealthy capitalists. Campus Crusade (originally financed by Nelson Bunker Hunt, heir of the Hunt Oil Company fortune, and Wallace Johnson, founder of Holiday Inn) was merely one of many similar (if now lesser-known) organizations.
A partial listing of such organizations includes: National Education Program (1948), American Council of Christian Layman (1949), Christian Crusade (1950), Christian Freedom Foundation (1950), and The Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (1953). In the years following the Pledge modification, many more new organizations were birthed. Collectively, these organizations during the 1950s utilized, with great effectiveness, modern media (radio, mass mailings, conferences, seminars and television) in their crusade against godless communism and on behalf of unfettered capitalism.
The story of one of these organizations — The Christian Anti-Communism Crusade — serves to illustrate the yet emerging new American God during the decade of the 1950s.
Frederick C. Schwarz — an Austrian-born medical doctor, anti-communist crusader, and independent Baptist — was brought to America in 1953 by the American Council of Christian Churches, a popular anti-communist, extreme-capitalist organization founded in 1941 by vocal Christian fundamentalist Carl McIntire. McIntire recruited Schwarz for the purpose of establishing The Christian Anti-Communism Crusade.
Schwarz recalled his beginnings in America:
I was an evangelical Christian and the Communists are evangelical in another sense. I knew they intend to destroy what I stood for. I am not ashamed to say that I am a narrow-minded, Bible-believing Baptist. On that basis is built my Crusade.
By 1957, in the midst of the “Red Scare” (a period of intense anti-communist fear stoked by politicians, capitalists and conservative religious leaders) Schwarz was testifying against communism before the U.S. House of Representatives and receiving extensive press coverage. Soon, Crusade’s annual income topped $1 million annually.
One of the Representatives whom Schwarz testified before was Brooks Hays, a Democratic congressman and Southern Baptist layman from Arkansas whom the Washington Post in 1954 called “one of the foremost experts in psychological warfare against communism.” Yet fear of communism was so heightened that some conservatives charged the relatively moderate Hays as promoting communist programs. While serving as a United States congressman, Hays also held the office of president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1957 to 1958.
Schwarz and Hays were in good Baptist company. The most well-known Baptist of the era, evangelist Billy Graham, was also vigorously anti-communist. The popular evangelist routinely referred to communism as Satanic. “Either Communism must die, or Christianity must die,” Graham wrote in 1954, “because it is actually a battle between Christ and anti-Christ.”
On the other hand, the Baptist World Alliance, because of its global nature, was suspected by some of being soft on communism.
Don Hillis, missionary to India, described the fervor of the times:
In the lives of some, anti-communism conversation has usurped Bible study. Anti-communism movements have supplanted missions. A warm and zealous witness which at one time gave world evangelism its priority has in some hearts been dethroned by a neurotic negativism which spends its energy fighting communism.
The extent of the marriage of conservative politics and the Christian Right in the fight against communism was voiced by David Noebel of Christian Crusade:
For any self-respecting person, any person who loves his country and fears God, there is no such thing as the middle of the road. A special place in hell is being reserved for people who believe in walking down the middle of the politial and religious world. It will be their privilege to fry with Eleanor Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson.
“Under God” and unfettered capitalism, Carl McIntire, Bill Bright, Frederick Schwarz, David Noebel, and Billy Graham — among many other (always white) Christian Right leaders — used the decade of the fifties to shape a new God-narrative: an American patriotic, nationalistic, capitalist-loving, communist-hating, liberal-despising deity who was the only hope for America’s future. Indeed, their collective crusade, allied with right-wing politics, changed the ethos of the nation during the decade: in 1955 the words “In God We Trust” became the legal motto of the United States, and in 1957 the same words were added to U. S. currency.
Christianity, politics and capitalism thus formally merged in an unholy alliance against the common enemy of all three: communism. Empowered by the nation’s capital and financed by America’s boardrooms, America’s Christian Right strode forth in confidence to further the battle, armed with the God they had helped birth. Church pews were full and liberalism was in decline. Despite increasingly violent racial unrest, a growing feminist movement, the fraying of America’s constitutional heritage, and the threat of nuclear warfare, the American God of the 1950s stood tall as a shining light in a world darkened by atheistic philosophies.
Next month: Part 3
* For source quotes and introductory information on Christian Right organizations of the 1950s, see Richard V. Pierard, The Unequal Yoke: Evangelical Christianity and Political Conservatism (J. P. Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1970; chapter two); also see Thomas Aiello, “Constructing ‘Godless Communism: Religion, Politics, and Popular Culture, 1954-1960.”
Aaron Weaver is a doctoral candidate in Religion, Politics & Society at Baylor University. Weaver blogs at www.thebigdaddyweave.com and is the author of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom (Smyth & Helwys, 2011).
Recent developments and discussions have highlighted that – perhaps more so than ever – there exist multiple competing visions for religious liberty among Baptists in America. These strikingly distinct visions have been made visible for the general public in the ongoing hyperbole-drenched debates concerning the Obama Administration’s controversial “contraception mandate.” This mandate requires most private health care plans to cover – with no co-pay – contraception and other preventive services for women.
Baptists of all varieties rightly expressed concern that the original exemption carved out for religious employers – primarily churches and other houses of worship – was too narrow. Last October, Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School, called for a “win-win solution” in a Washington Post column. Bucking the Baptist tradition of offering vague proposals, Rogers outlined specific actions that the government could take to accommodate all religious organizations while also ensuring access to contraceptive coverage.
On February 10, President Obama introduced a compromise that will require the insurance providers to cover contraception if non-exempted religious organizations such as universities and hospitals choose not to. Brent Walker, Executive-Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, described the decision as a “positive step in protecting the right of religious institutions to define themselves and accommodate religious conscience.”
Southern Baptist leaders, however, did not agree. Invoking Nazi imagery, Timothy George of Samford University dubbed the requirement the “greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime.” Southern Seminary president Al Mohler declared that President Obama had “trampled religious liberty underfoot” while SBC ethics czar Richard Land announced that the Obama Administration has “declared war on religion.”
These vastly differing viewpoints on the state of religious liberty offer an opportunity for reflection. Any honest Baptist will agree that there will never be one vision for religious liberty among Baptists. We Baptists who reject the popular cultural practice of “religious freedom for me but not for thee” ought to devote more time to discussing what a thoroughly Baptist vision for religious liberty looks like in this second-decade of the 21st century. We must better articulate a real Baptist vision consistent with our shared history and heritage. This necessarily involves much more than the occasional resolutionary affirmation of “religious liberty and the separation of church and state.” We must make that phrase visibly meaningful in our current context.
We must acknowledge the complexities of church-state relations in our increasingly pluralistic society. Rights and other competing interests must always be weighed and balanced. This is a reality seemingly lost on many Baptists especially in the midst of heated culture wars. To my Southern Baptist friends, a newsflash: gays and lesbians enjoy religious liberty, too. The effort to frame gay rights as incompatible with religious freedom is really an effort to absolutely privilege your religious conscience while infringing upon theirs.
We must concede that hyperbole and cousin hysteria are not helpful in the search for solutions to church-state clashes. Is it really fair to accuse President Obama of declaring a “war on religion”? Isn’t this the same President Obama who has neglected to put a stop to tax-payer funded hiring discrimination on the part of religious groups receiving federal funds? The cries from some Baptists of persecution are laughable and the comparisons with Dr. King dishonor his legacy. After all, Dr. King wrote his letter from a Birmingham jail not from the comfort of a Dean’s office overlooking a beautiful Baptist university campus in Birmingham.
We must defend vigorously the religious liberty of minorities. It’s easy to stand in solidarity with the powerful Catholic Bishops but clearly much more difficult to lock-arms with Muslims in our own communities. Why were we Baptists unable to speak with one voice in support of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”? Instead, Baptists such as Richard Land encouraged the government to use legal means to block the construction of that Islamic community center. Baptists must not retreat as Land recently did from a Jewish-led coalition tasked with defending the First Amendment freedoms of Muslims in places like Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Finally, we must recover historic Baptist ideals of freedom, equality and nondiscrimination. In doing so, we should recall Roger Williams who “plead for impartiality and equal freedom, peace, and safety to other Consciences and Assemblies.” These ideals comprise the toolkit needed to articulate an authentic 21st century Baptist vision for religious liberty.
About the Baptist History & Heritage Society Conference: The 2012 Annual Conference of the Baptist History & Heritage Society will be June 7-9 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The conference will be hosted by the First Baptist Churches of Raleigh in conjunction with Campbell University.
To view the full Conference program, see a list of keynote and breakout presenters, access lodging information, and make your reservations, click here.
BH&HS members receive discount registration now through June 1.
“If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops.” Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, criticizing American politicians for listening to the voice of Church laity regarding the current contraception controversy. Roman Catholic bishops are united in opposition to contraception. However, 90% percent of American Roman Catholics disagree with Catholic bishops on this issue. (link)
“I want to tell you I am a five-point Calvinist, all right? I never write about that, I don’t speak about that. If you want to know that there you have it …. the [Southern Baptist Convention’s] Baptist Faith & Message excludes Arminianism.” Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, urging Southern Baptist news reporters to focus more on Calvinism.
March 18, 2012 – A Glenn Chancel Choir presentation, “Of Thy Love, O Lord, I Will Sing.” Featuring works for chorus, soloists, strings, harp, organ and piano. Glenn Memorial Methodist Church, 4 PM. Atlanta, GA. More information.
March 29-30, 2012 – Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, Texas. Theme: “Faith and Politics: Being Prophetic Without Being Partisan.” Guest speakers: Stephen Reeves, Suzii Paynter, C. Welton Gaddy. More information.
April 9-12, 2012 – The Call of the Wilderness, Big Bend National Park, Marathon, Texas. Come the week after Easter to kneel, to walk and to pray the countryside of Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas. Place your feet solidly and firmly upon God’s wild earth. Take pause. Let the solitude and silence of the wilderness call you forward into the community of the resurrection as we begin the great fifty days of Easter. For more information, contact Steve Graham, firstname.lastname@example.org
April 13-15, 2012 – Alliance of Baptists Annual Gathering, Highland Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas. Theme: Baptists on the Frontier. Speakers: Susan Sparks, pastor and author of Laugh Your Way to Grace; Alan Sherouse, pastor of Metro Baptist Church, New York City; Jennifer Wright Knust of Boston University School of Theology and author ofUnprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire; Jamie Clark-Soles of Perkins School of Theology and author of Engaging the Word: the New Testament and the Christian Believer; and Miguel de la Torre of Iliff School of Theology. More information.
April 16-17, 2012 – T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics, Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary, Abilene, Texas. Theme: Community and Exclusion: The Ethics of Ethnicity and Communion. Guest speaker: Neville Callum. More information.
April 17-18, 2012 – The Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State, Mercer University, Macon, Ga. Speaker: Professor Frank Lambert, professor of history at Purdue University. More information.
April 19-21, 2012 – A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant. First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia. Co-sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University. More information.
April 27-28, 2012 – Christians for Biblical Equality of Houston Conference, Heights Church of Christ, Houston. More information.
June 7-9, 2012 – BH&HS Annual Conference, “Baptists and Theology.” Sponsored by the First Baptist Churches of Raleigh and Campbell University. Program information and registration.
June 20-23, 2012 – Cooperative Baptist Fellowship national General Assembly. Theme: Infinitely More. Program information and registration.
July 4, 2012 – 200th Birthday Celebration of the Rev. John Jasper, legendary 19th-century preacher and founding pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church (Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, 14 West Duval Street, Richmond, VA; call 804-648-7511 for lunch reservations)
July 4-7, 2012 –The Baptist Historical Society Summer School and the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage International Conference at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, UK. Theme: “Freedom and the Powers: Perspectives from Baptist History.” The conference celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Helwys’ The Mystery of Iniquity. Speakers include Prof. John Briggs, Prof. Malcolm Evans on ‘Freedom of Religion: Past, Present, Future’, Revd Canon Dr Michael Bordeaux, Prof. David Killingray on ‘The Revd Dr Theophilus Scholes (1856-1930s): black Baptist critic at the heart of Empire’, Dr Alison Searle on ‘Freedom and the Powers: The Personal and Public Worlds of Baptist Women (1640-80)’, and Dr Toivo Pilli on ‘Baptist Leaders and the Atheistic Powers: A Soviet Estonian Case Study’. One more short paper is being sought. For more information, contact contact Dr Ian Randall, email@example.com.
July 11-14, 2012 – International Conference on Baptist Studies VI (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina)
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.