An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 11, No. 7]
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 7 of a Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
Tempests, Teapots, and the Times
by Richard F. Wilson
“Reflections on Baptists and Culture”
A Different Path: The Legacy of Richard Land
by Aaron Weaver
Religious Freedom for All
Jerrod H. Hugenot
Seminary in Crisis: The Strategic Response of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the SBC Controversy, by William E. Hull
Baptists and Theology Videos
“Notes and Quotes”
Responses to Current Happenings
A NEW AMERICAN GOD: EIGHT DECADES IN THE MAKING
Part 7 of a Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
By the mid-1990s, the Christian Rights’s God, once a new God on the American landscape (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6), was embedded in the nation’s conscience. Observant citizens could not help but notice the political partnership between the Republican Party and the Religious Right, openly evidenced in the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In addition, the fundamentalist takeover of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination — the Southern Baptist Convention — had played out in secular news outlets during the 1980s, while the largely-regional body now displayed itself, in effect, as the Southern Baptist Republican Convention. So great was this latter political alliance that by the 1990s, Southern Baptist leaders had seemingly rejected their faith heritage of church state separation in favor of advocating a form of theocratic government.
Nonetheless, Republican Christians felt shortchanged. Ronald Reagan had promised much, but delivered relatively little. Ex-Baptist Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign of 1988 garnered lots of noise but ultimately fizzled. Republican George H. W. Bush won the presidential election of 1988 yet never evidenced the enthusiastic religious rhetoric of Reagan, and made little effort to advance the primary agenda of white conservative Christians. Baptist Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority dissolved in 1989, with Pat Robertson picking up the remnants and forming the Christian Coalition.
Yet Robertson was on to something. Focusing on the grassroots rather than an ambivalent American president, the Christian Coalition appropriated white Christian media (radio and television) and recruited white conservative and fundamentalist Protestant Christian pastors and leaders in America to stoke Christian nationalistic sentiment among the Caucasian evangelistic masses. Pursuing a multi-dimensional approach for turning America into a godly nation (Old Testament style), the strategy involved harnessing the voices of millions of conservative Protestant followers to exert increased pressure upon Washington, D.C. through Congress and the judicial system, double-down on a Christian rationale for unfettered capitalism, raise the decibel level on the social issues of abortion and homosexuality, and escalate the demonizing of liberalism on both the religious and political fronts.
This broad-based effort to mold America into the image of white fundamentalist Christianity seemed to be paying dividends, despite lack of concrete action in the White House. Complementing the Christian Coalition was the Texas-based Wallbuilders ministry, formed in 1989 by fundamentalist pseudo-historian David Barton (BA, Religious Education, Oral Roberts University) for the purpose of rewriting American history in order to remove America’s heritage of church state separation and advocate for Christian nationalism.
The successes of the Christian Coalition and other Religious Right organizations, however, soon confronted a new, and unexpectedly sinister, foe: yet another moderate Southern Baptist in the White House who opposed fundamentalist Christianity.
Bill Clinton proved much more formidable than had Jimmy Carter. Capturing the American presidency at a time when seemingly most white conservative Christians in America had been led to believe that Democrats — as champions of the rights of women and ethnic minorities — were necessarily liberal and acted as the tool of Satan, Clinton, while less theologically-sophisticated than Carter, played the game of politics far better than had the Sunday School teacher from Georgia. While unable to entirely hold back the Reagan-stoked policies of redistributing wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich (in the name of free markets and a so-called Christian work-ethic), Clinton nonetheless successfully pursued policies that championed the poor and minorities, and was not above invoking biblical themes of caring for Society’s underprivileged. Whereas Reagan had increased America’s debt to record levels in record time, Clinton, displaying deft political skills, managed to both balance the nation’s budget and bring prosperity to America.
The more Clinton succeeded as a politician and in the public eye (he was widely popular with the larger American public, including African American Christians), however, the greater the hatred of the white Christian Right grew. An advocate of church state separation, Clinton did not embrace Christian nationalism. Furthermore, the president’s Christian and biblical values, expressed in social policies, were of the wrong kind: liberal. At the same time, his economic policies were not targeted at the right people: Protestant white folk, especially the well-to-do. And his sins were the worst of all: sexual.
Essentially, Baptist Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist Christian leaders spent the eight years of Clinton’s presidency in all-out opposition to the Baptist president. Christian Reconstructionist groups, opposing Clinton and demanding theocracy, grew dramatically. In just one example, on February 4, 1998, Christian Reconstruction advocates held a press conference in Washington, D.C. to argue that all U.S. law should be based on Old Testament legal codes, including death to adulterers. News of Clinton’s affair with Monical Lewinsky had recently emerged, meaning the president would be punished with death if the Reconstructionists had their way.
Aiding and abetting the Christian Right’s hatred of Clinton was a newly formed media organization. Founded by long-time Republican-political operative Roger Ailes in October 1996, the Republican-allied Fox News television channel was tasked with opposing Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, while boosting and reshaping the Grand Old Party by driving it further to the political right. Fox News performed its mission admirably during Clinton’s second term, elevating the level of conservative hatred toward Clinton, further embedding politically extremist ideology within the Christian Right, and shaping the agenda of the Republican Party.
Having galvanized and energized the white Christian Right grassroots, further cemented conservative Christian bonds with the Republican Party, and spawned a new level of Christian hate rhetoric, Bill Clinton’s otherwise successful presidency drew to a close in 2000. Discouraged over Clinton’s successes and popularity yet committed more than ever to forcing America to bow to their religious and ideological wishes, the Christian Right God and his followers, allied with a Republican Congress and a conservative judicial system, were determined to secure the election of an evangelical Republican president who would do their every bidding.
A religiously-conservative grassroots-fueled animosity of all things Democrat and liberal (terms viewed as interchangeable) thus overshadowed the early months of the 2000 election campaign. Gary Bauer, former director of the fundamentalist Family Research Council, although a long shot, became the early favorite of the Christian Right in a crowded Republican field. Among the competing candidates was one George W. Bush, son of the former lackluster president George H. W. Bush, wealthy businessman and oilman, known as an intellectual lightweight, member of a “liberal” denomination, and a man with a history of moral problems.
Across the chasm in the enemy camp, however, stood a favored Democratic candidate whose presence embodied, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” Al Gore had been Bill Clinton’s vice president the past eight years, and he was the third moderate Southern Baptist from the South in the past quarter century to stand in the way of an increasingly ultra-conservative Republican Party. The previous two Southern Baptists had emerged victorious in three of their four presidential quests.
The prospect of yet another moderate Southern Baptist derailing the Republican Party put Christian Right organizations and Fox News into overdrive. The new millennium was at hand. Against the backdrop of religiously-driven apocalyptic rhetoric, the Christian Right was certain that America was doomed if Democrats won the White House yet again.
Next Month: Part 8
Rick Wilson is a teaching theologian at Mercer University, where he is chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity. Rick also is the current chair of the Commission on Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance, and a member of the First Baptist Church of Christ at Macon, Georgia, where he has served as a deacon and a Sunday School teacher. His passions include the post-war recovery of Liberia, creative cooking, and the mysteries of professional baseball.
The tempests are concentrated. The teapots are narrow. And the times, well, they’re not a’changing.
On July 13 President Obama delivered a rousing speech in Roanoke, Virginia that plumbed the depths of the courage, resourcefulness, and cooperative spirit that has allowed the United States to survive and thrive since the late eighteenth century. A key in the speech was the President’s honoring of businesses, small and large, who have collaborated to create a viable system of commerce. The collaboration includes government and its role as public servant. How else would have the infrastructure that supports businesses come into being?
By the next morning, however, the frank words of the President had been reduced to a cherry-picked phrase from his speech that FOX News and its parrots were intent to use out of context. “You didn’t build that!” became a rallying cry for a narrow ideological group in our society. I have to believe that those who crafted the cry knew better. After all, they are well-educated journalists who should know the basics of grammar and communication techniques. But . . . but they denied their better selves and stirred up a storm that never should have been.
On July 20 a disturbed graduate student, James Holmes, unleashed a genuinely horrific storm of fear, death and survival in the confines of a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. By the next morning, as the body count (12) and the number of the wounded (58) were confirmed, already there were in place recriminations from activists for gun control and justifications from NRA-spurred loyalists of the Second Amendment. In the wake of Aurora, Time writer, Joe Klien, penned a cover piece: “How the Gun Won.”
Klein, however, does not concede the end of the struggle. Instead, he highlights the methods of the NRA that appear, for now, unassailable. The NRA has become big business, throwing its considerable weight behind gun manufacturers, gun sellers, and gun owners. More politicians appear to be gun-shy rather than gung-ho when it comes to the NRA. I have to believe that Klein does not believe “the gun won.” Klein is correct: the NRA has a politically-impressive machine that has succeeded in intimidating legislators. Klein tips his hat to the NRA and challenges others to develop the political and moral savvy to revive a healthy conversation about the limits and extent of the Second Amendment.
Between the events in Roanoke, VA and Aurora, CO, Dan Cathy became a household name because of his personal confession that he supports traditional marriage. The confession came in the context of wide-ranging interview with Baptist Press (Cathy made it clear early in the interview that “We [Chick-fil-A] don’t claim to be a Christian business.” When pressed by the interviewer, however, Cathy, said, “Guilty as charged,” when asked if he and, by implication, Chick-fil-A supported traditional family values. No surprise; the Cathy family long have been stalwart Southern Baptists.
Taken in context, the frank words of Dan Cathy and the frank words of President Obama make sense. Out of context they unravel, either under the weight of those who bend the words or under the weight of those who spoke the words. Unlike the President’s words–that universally raised questions of the larger context of the speech–Cathy’s words opened inquiry into corporate practices of Chick-fil-A, including its positive support of traditional marriage, and the unfortunate financial support Chick-fil-A gives to groups like the Family Research Council [that has been identified as a hate-group by the Southern Poverty Law Center].
In the aftermath of Cathy’s words and the revelations of Chick-fil-A’s investments in anti-gay foundations, some politicians over-reached and violated Dan Cathy’s right to free-speech, suggesting that Boston and Chicago, for example, would attempt to block Chick-fil-A franchises. Immediately there was pushback from the left and the right. Imagine the ACLU and Mike Huckabee in the same corner! It happened.
It’s been a summer of tempests. There have been some noticeable teapots. In the end, things have not changed so much. The times are not a’changing.
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).
Speaking before an audience of 6,000 at High Point Church in Arlington, Texas, Richard Land—the controversial president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention—declared that the upcoming presidential election is “the most important election since 1860.” Just a few short days after preaching at Glenn Beck’s metroplex rally, Land announced his plans to step down as president of the SBC’s ethics agency in October 2013. When Land does step down, he will have served as the denomination’s ethics and religious liberty chief for exactly 25 years. What then can be said about Land’s contributions on behalf of religious liberty and the separation of church and state?
Over his denominational career spanning four decades, Land has been consistently criticized by Baptists and non-Baptists alike for his positions on church-state issues. Hundreds of pages would likely be necessary to adequately flesh out Land’s accommodationist philosophy. To do so would, without a doubt, be a difficult task. Land’s church-state philosophy is confusing at best. Even sympathetic scholars have suggested that his approach and articulation of church-state principles is “rather incoherent.” Land’s repeated demands for “maximum acceptance, maximum acknowledgment, maximum accommodation” of the Christian faith belie his claim of support for an institutional separation of church and state.
Perhaps the best way to assess Land’s religious liberty record is to revisit his positions with regard to religious minorities. After all, we Baptists were once a persecuted minority. How we treat the stranger in our midst and whether we stand up for his or her freedoms speaks volumes about our commitment to an uncoerced faith and unfettered conscience.
Sadly, when it comes to Muslims—America’s most scrutinized religious minority group—Land’s record has been wildly inconsistent. In 2010, Land was quick to voice his opposition to a proposal to build an Islamic center six blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. Of course, Land was not alone in expressing his opposition to the Ground Zero Mosque. Many suggested that the Islamic center should be sited somewhere else in order to avoid controversy and not offend those offended by the proposal.
But Land was virtually alone in offering a legal argument against the proposal. Referencing the Supreme Court’s City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) ruling, Land encouraged government officials to prevent construction of the center. The Supreme Court held in Boerne that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was unconstitutional at the state and local levels. There, the Supreme Court ruled that Boerne, Texas could stop a Catholic Church from expanding its building in the city’s historic district. Yet, back in 1998, Land testified before Congress and called the Boerne ruling “one of the worst decisions rendered by the Supreme Court in its long history.”
Later in 2010, Land announced his support for a group of Muslims attempting to build an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He also joined an interfaith coalition to protect the religious freedom of Muslims. However, a few short months after joining the initiative spearheaded by his friend Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Land resigned from the coalition. Explaining his sudden departure, Land stated that his fellow Southern Baptists felt that defending the religious freedom of Muslims in the courtroom was “a bridge too far.”
Since resigning from the coalition, Land’s own words and actions seem to indicate that perhaps it was not simply his fellow Southern Baptists who were uncomfortable with defending the freedoms of Muslims in the legal arena. As church-state groups were voicing concern over Rep. Peter King’s congressional targeting American Muslims in early 2011, Land was quick to offer his support. He told the Christian Post, “This is a great opportunity for the Muslim community to come forward and denounce terrorism.”
In May 2011, Land featured an opinion column on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission website refuting the argument of a fellow Southern Baptist that anti-Sharia law legislation in states such as Oklahoma will make relationships with Muslims more difficult. The author and Southern Baptist state convention executive Jim Richards wrote, “We cannot apply personal witnessing principles to national security issues….Obviously, we want to witness to the nations, but it is hard to do that when they are seeking to kill us.”
Rather than boldly following in the footsteps of his Baptist forebear Thomas Helwys, Land has chosen a different path. This path is one that has led the Southern Baptist Convention away from the legacy of John Leland and George W. Truett and toward the likes of popular revisionists like Glenn Beck and David Barton. Many who bear the name Baptist will continue to lament this trajectory and Land’s contributions to the rise of Baptist accommodationism. However, Land’s greatest church-state sin has been his inability to stand up to and accommodation of his constituents that scream and shout about Sharia law and insist on demonizing religious minorities. These are the church-state contributions that should define Land’s legacy.
Editor’s Note: Aaron Weaver outed Richard Land’s plagiarism in April, which in turn contributed to Land’s early retirement.
The Rev. Jerrod H Hugenot serves as Coordinating Minister of the First Baptist Church of Bennington, Vermont. Contact Jerrod at email@example.com.
In 2012, Baptists celebrate the 400th anniversary of Thomas Helwys’ The Short Declaration of the Mistery (Mystery) of Iniquity, the book challenges the English crown’s claim to rule the realm and the Church. Further, Helwys articulated the view that persons of any religion, or none, should be able to have said convictions without fear or hindrance. Such a conviction for inter-religious tolerance seems new enough in the 21st-century, making such a statement in the 17th remarkably more so in its early advocacy. Helwy’s book is thought to be the first writing in English to appeal for universal religious freedom.
Helwys went as far as to send the royal court a copy of his book. Showing that Baptists have always attracted an ornery type, Helwys wrote some words directly to the King, saying the crown “hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual Lords over them” (i.e. the King does not rule the church nor set the rules and leadership).
One wonders what Helwys thought of the future, living most of his adult life as a religious dissenter, not in favor with the establishment and dying in prison for his convictions around 1616. Like most whose visions seem overshadowed by storm clouds and rough seas, Helwys likely despaired as much as he kept hope within.
I could not help but think of Helwys and his legacy while attending the 2012 meeting of the Baptist World Alliance, held earlier this month in Santiago, Chile. Four centuries after Helwys (or better said, four centuries later because of early Baptists like Helwys), the Baptist World Alliance claims a fellowship of 223 conventions and unions in 120 countries comprising 42 million members in 177,000 churches (and that’s not the sum of all the Baptist followers in the world!).
Just as Helwys, the Baptists reminded one another of what it means to speak up for religious freedom and to live in a multi-faith world. One of the panel discussions offered as part of the BWA’s Freedom and Justice Commission featured Nigerian Baptists reflecting on the religious tumult in their country. In recent months, Nigerian churches have been targets for “discriminatory bombing of churches and properties” with many Nigerians killed in these attacks, planned and coordinated by militant Islamic jihadists. The stories of these Baptist leaders were quite harrowing to hear, and the question of the BWA’s involvement as a global organization was raised. How can Baptists near and far from these situations provide support, advocacy and aid to fellow Baptists in such times?
The witness of Thomas Helwys’ writings resounded in the “next steps” taken from this session to the time when the General Council, the BWA’s decision making body met by the end of the week. The General Council passed a resolution recognizing the difficult situation in Nigeria, decrying “these horrendous acts of inhumanity” that have “promoted fear to freely worship and assemble” and threatened the “safety and security of all people in Nigeria”. The resolution also reflected the BWA’s values that all persons are entitled to religious freedom and “for people of all religions to live at peace with one another in the same territory”. It is hoped that in the coming weeks and months the BWA will increase its efforts to offer support to Nigerian Baptists through various government channels and non-governmental organizations.
Some efforts to promote this peace are already underway, including the BWA’s Baptist/Muslim dialogue which promotes opportunities for common ground between Christians and Muslims. The BWA’s leadership recognizes that many persons, Christians included, give into the temptation to label all adherents of a religion with the fringe tendencies of a militant group. In fidelity to Baptist history and heritage and more importantly the Gospel, the BWA encourages its member conventions and organizations to seek an end to violence, to speak out wherever we are for those experiencing fear or hardship near and far, and “for the Christian witness to be a light in the face of violence”.
Editor’s Note: The Baptist Studies Bulletin welcomes submissions for guest editorials. Please contact editor Bruce Gourley.
Seminary presidents Duke K. McCall and Roy L. Honeycutt, Jr., are Hull’s subjects as he examines how the flagship theological institution of Southern Baptists responded to opposition from increasingly organized, inerrantist efforts to transform the educational institution.
“A brilliant analysis of radically contrasting approaches to the crisis into which the inerrantist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention plunged Southern Seminary.” – Glenn Hinson, former David T. Porter Professor of Church History at Southern Seminary; current Senior Professor of Church History and Spirituality at Baptist Seminary in Kentucky
Published by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, this volume is available from Samford University. Paperback: $13. Hardback, $19. Mail orders to 800 Lakeshore Dr., Homewood, AL 35229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to browse other books published by the BH&HS.
Baptists and Theology Videos
General sessions and breakout sessions of the recent BH&HS annual conference on “Baptists and Theology” are now available for viewing online on the BH&HS website.
Videos include presentations by Bill Leonard, Glenn Jonas, Fisher Humphreys, Doug Weaver, Bill Pitts, Joseph Super, Benjamin Ross, Bill Summers, Michael Dain, Craig Sherouse, Jay Smith, Steve Harmon, Curtis Freeman, Marc Mullinax, Jerry Faught, David Stratton, Nicholas Pruitt, Philip Thompson, and J. M. Abrahamse.
“It’s gratifying to know you can’t build a career distorting history and get away with it forever.” Ryan Valentine, deputy director of the Texas Freedom Network, on fundamentalist Christian leader, Republican politician and pseudo-historian David Barton. Barton’s historical myths, popular in conservative religious and political circles but long dismissed by legitimate historians and historically-informed Christians, have finally come under criticism by some conservatives, leading conservative Christian publisher Thomas Nelson to pull Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, off the market. (link)
“Democrats, for example, have fallen in love with Subaru — it’s the new Volvo. Americans who drink diet soda — especially Diet Dr Pepper — are more likely to vote and to be Republicans than Americans who drink sugared beverages. Republicans prefer dark liquors, while reform-minded Democrats prefer the transparency of vodka and rum. And it turns out that when it comes to fast food, Republicans love their Chick-fil-A restaurants. Democrats are more likely to head to Popeyes and Church’s, open seven days a week. Chick-fil-A customers are very, very Republican.” Two researcher’s attempts to place the [Baptist-owned] Chick-fil-A fallout (see Richard Wilson’s article above) in broader context within a nation where one’s religious affiliation often reflects one’s political commitments, in turn impacting consumer patterns. (link)
“God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms.” Columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr., lamenting the recent mass killing in an Aurora, Colorado theater. (link)
“… there is a difference between embracing and respecting the authority of the biblical revelation and pretending the Bible is some consistent catalogue of truth from which a verse here and a verse there can provide a definitive statement on every issue we encounter.” Baptists Today executive editor John Pierce commenting on the fruitlessness of Bible “duels.” (link)
October 12-13, 2012 — “Baptists and the Shaping of American Culture” Conference, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas. Featured speakers include Sandy Martin, Pamela Smoot, Adam Bond, James Byrd, Carol Crawford Holcomb, Elizabeth Flowers, Melody Maxwell, Susan Shaw, Alyson Dickson, and Wayne Flynt. 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.