An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 11, No. 10]
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 10 of a 10 Part Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
“Reflections on Baptists and Culture”
by Aaron Weaver
“Insights from the Baptist Congresses, 1881-1913”
An Excerpt from a BH&H Journal Article, Fall 2012
by Craig Sherouse
“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 10 of a 10-Part Series
by Bruce T. Gourley
In this month’s elections, the God of the Christian Right was soundly defeated, as widely noted by America’s leading Christian conservatives. American voters rejected the Christian Right’s insistence that their religious liberties should trump the liberties of others (the contraception mandate being the most recent issue hijacked in a never-ending quest for special political privileges for God’s chosen), that rape “is something that God intended to happen” (Calvin would be proud), that abortion must be outlawed in all circumstances (never mind that abortion is not mentioned in the Bible), and that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman (gay marriage is the bogeyman, with nary a word about Old Testament biblical approval of one man and many women).
Franklin Graham summarized the disastrous results of Barack Obama’s re-election: America is now on a “path of destruction.”
And what will America’s destruction look like, should her citizens continue to reject the demands of the Christian Right? Armageddon, according to Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas: “the course [Obama] is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.” While some Christian Right leaders yet hold out hope for finding a better way to package their extreme political positions in an effort to save America, others are not so sure it can be done within the confines of the Republican Party. To avert Armageddon, some are renewing efforts for a third party, while still others are calling for secession from the United States.
Meanwhile, many non-religious Republican Party leaders are blaming their party’s losses on “the more extreme elements of the religious right,” and demanding that the party break its allegiance to the Christian Right.
At least one Christian Right leader, however, is taking off the war paint. Jim Daly, head of Focus on the Family, has raised the ire of his allies by declaring, “If the Christian message has been too wrapped around the axle of the Republican Party, then a) that’s our fault, and b) we’ve got to rethink that.” In addition, Daly is calling for conservative Christians to work with abortion-rights groups to find common ground on adoption–a previously unthinkable proposition. Few of his fellow conservatives, however, are anxious to ally with their enemies.
Only time will tell if the Republican / Christian Right marriage is over, but it is easy to see why the Christian Right is wallowing in end-of-the-world imagery: although conservatives spent several billion dollars on the elections and projected confidence to the very last moment, not only did Barack Obama win reelection as president, but Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The electoral count was lopsidedly Democratic, while Democrats won the popular vote for the presidency, the Senate, and the House. Conversely, Republicans failed to win the popular vote for the presidency for the fifth time in the last six elections.
Exactly who voted for and against the Republican / Christian Right ideology in November 2012? Thanks to our data-driven era, the answer is readily available. Republican candidates won the vote among older, white, married, well-off, male, Protestant evangelicals (Catholic bishops also voted Republican). Everyone else (people of color, women, young people, non-evangelical clergy and laity) voted mostly Democratic, including rapidly growing “nones,” individuals (typically young people) who voice no religious affinity. Ominously, not only are young people now largely Democratic, but they are strongly supportive of equal rights for homosexuals, a position anathema to the Christian Right. Robert P. Jones, politics and religion pollster, calls this new reality “hard to overstate.” In the face of young America’s support for same-sex marriage, “it’s unlikely this issue will reappear as a major national wedge issue.”
The Christian Right God, crowned under George W. Bush, has thus been pushed aside by an electorate who values liberty and equality for all. Dethroned, Republicans and their Christian Right allies are yet stuck in a world view that demands special privileges for white, Christian men. Time, however, has expired on Anglo-Saxon supremacy in America. The election year 2012 is the maturing of upheavals in two earlier years: 1865 and 1965.
Cultural changes sometimes begin in ways unanticipated, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses being a prime example: Luther envisioned basic reforms within the Roman Catholic Church, but instead he kindled a fire and forever changed Christianity.
The year 1865 witnessed just such an advance for human equality. The immediate context was the victory of the United States over the Confederate States of America, resulting in a triumph in the march of the principle of equality for all, and constitutional liberty for black Americans in particular. The long-term consequences, however, were both more broader and uneven than political leaders of the era could have envisioned.
In effect, in 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery and cleared a path to legally wrest from white males (in 1868) an exclusive franchise over the voting booth–only to have white supremacists, for nearly a century following, use violence and a majoritarian status to largely prevent African Americans from voting. The door having been opened, however, women in turn muscled their way to the ballot box in 1920. And in 1964, the United States finally enforced racial and ethnic equality in the voting booth.
On the heels of the securing of voter equality, the United States in 1965 passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, opening America’s shores to non-Anglo Saxon immigrants. Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, and Africans were allowed to legally migrate to America and become voting U. S. citizens. White conservative Christians bemoaned the pluralism of the immigrants, but the long-term results were inevitable. By the 1990s, one-third of America’s population growth was driven by legal immigration, compared to 10% prior to the legislation. The white population in America plummeted from 88.6% in 1960 to 72.4% in 2010. And in 2012, Latinos–the fastest growing group of American immigrants–voted over 70% for President Obama, their votes combining with that of the 93% of African Americans who voted Democratic, thus dethroning the Christian Right’s white, male God.
Recognizing that the 2012 elections are not a lark, the Republican Party is now scrambling to find a way to attract Latino voters (although not African Americans, who have long been considered a lost cause by the Grand Old Party and the white Christian Right). While the next four years will likely witness growing friction between Christian conservatives and traditional Republicans, both are expected to abandon the anti-immigration rhetoric of the party’s angry white men.
Amidst the white male angst and despair, intra-party fighting, second-guessing, and doomsday scenarios, where does the Christian Right’s God go from here? Has he played his last starring role in the history of America? Will he finally divorce the Republican Party in favor of a yet-formed Christian Right Party that will yet embrace His whiteness? Or will the Republican Party find it impossible to part ways with the God who helped Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush claim the presidency?
It is hard to imagine the white, male Christian Right God finding favor again in pluralistic, ethnically diverse twenty-first America. After all, white males comprise only 34% of the population now, while non-whites account for 28% of citizens (up from 20% in 2000).
There are some historical frames of reference with which to ponder the future. Placing God on a political throne has always produced disastrous results, from the theocracies of the Roman Empire to those of colonial America and the current Islamic Middle East. While maligned by the Christian Right, the four-centuries old Baptist heritage of religious liberty for all, church state separation, and welcoming of pluralism continues to provide a way beyond the lethal nature of deity-driven politics. Perhaps, in the long view, a public reclaiming of the Baptist heritage will help rescue both religion and government from the poison of entanglement.
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).
Just hours after his huge victory, a teary-eyed President Obama addressed dozens of staffers at campaign headquarters in Chicago. With tears beginning to slowly stream down his face, the president told the jubilant team, “What you guys have done means that the work that I’m doing is important. And I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of all of you.”
Meanwhile, a perhaps teary-eyed Albert Mohler penned a lengthy lament published on his website titled “Aftermath: Lessons from the 2012 Election.” The outspoken president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote: “We are rightly and deeply concerned. We must pray that God will change President Obama’s heart on a host of issues, ranging from the sanctity of unborn life to the integrity of marriage. We must push back against his contraception mandate that tramples upon religious liberty.”
Mohler expressed his sadness for the “demise of the Republican Coalition” and suggested a course correction. He continued, “Put simply, the Republican Party cannot win unless it becomes the party of aspiration for younger American and Hispanic Americans. Otherwise, it will soon become a retirement community for aging conservatives.” Mohler added, “No party can win if it is seen as heartless. No party can win if it appeals to white and older Americans. No party can win if it looks more like the way to the past than the way to the future.”
Declaring that evangelicals face a “new moral landscape in America,” Mohler concluded his lament with an “urgent call to action.” “We face a worldview challenge that is far greater than any political challenge, as we must learn how to winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions about marriage, sex, the sanctity of life, and a range of moral issues,” said Mohler.
Without question, Mohler and his fellow conservative culture warriors face a great challenge. Quite clearly, the 2012 election was a repudiation of social conservative extremism. The resounding defeat of both Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) and Richard Mourdock (R-IN) reveal this reality. Most Americans—Christians included—believe that there are not different types of rape. Rape is rape. Most are not interested in denying emergency contraception to rape victims. And 80 percent reject the absolutist position on abortion that Mohler insists is the only legitimate Christian perspective.
The vision of religious liberty held by Mohler and other Christian conservatives is in desperate need of revision. A forward-looking vision must recognize the complexities of our increasingly pluralistic religious landscape. Mohler’s vision sells well to most white evangelicals who realize that their cultural influence is dissipating and that their “traditional America” is no more as Bill O’Reilly recently pointed out. This election demonstrated that most people of faith do not view the contraception mandate of ObamaCare as some grave infringement on America’s first freedom. Perhaps this is because the issue is not as black and white as Mohler would like to think it is?
The challenges do not end with religious liberty and abortion. Voters in Maryland, Washington and Maine cast their ballots in favor of giving same-sex couples the right to marry. In Minnesota, voters rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. These are indeed serious setbacks. As conservative columnist and Romney supporter Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post, “The American people have changed their minds on the issue and fighting this one is political flat-earthism. As with divorce, one need not favor it, but to run against it is folly.” The tide has certainly turned. No amount of charm of cheerfulness is going to lure Americans to the ultra-conservative and utterly cruel side of absolute opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians.
The Republican Party would be well-served to ignore the recommendations and directives from many of the prominent social conservative personalities in their midst from Tony Perkins to Ralph Reed to Albert Mohler. Repackaging the same old extreme positions with a new tone and a younger face will not work. This election has shown us that Americans are capable of recognizing extremism when they see it and hear it in our digital age. While the Religious Right is far from dead, it has been dealt a major blow. Mohler’s lament is Exhibit A.
Editor’s Note: Craig Sherouse is the pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia and chair of the Baptist World Alliance Heritage and Identity Commission. The Fall 2012 edition of the Baptist History & Heritage Journal will be mailed to Society members in December. The title of the Fall 2012 edition is “Identity Within Diversity: Baptists Across Centuries and Continents.” Society membership is available online.
The discussions in the Baptist Congresses of 1881-1913 were certainly in dialogue with their times, yet they still speak to our times. As we try to figure out what being a Baptist means in the global world of the 21st century, these North American conversations from over a century ago can help us. The Heritage and Identity Commission of the Baptist World Alliance is currently working on this matter, but there is even less of a consensus about “Baptist distinctives” around the world today than there was around North America a century ago. Are there six distinctives like E. Y. Mullins listed, or seventeen, like the BWA recited at the 2005 Centennial Congress? Is there only one – believers baptism by immersion? Is our distinctive that we hold more tightly and uniquely to our “bundle” of beliefs than others do? Are our distinctives being homogenized away anyway in a post-denominational era?
Some of the participants in the Congresses argued for a singular Baptist distinctive. G. D. Boardman, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia and a member of Rauschenbusch’s Brotherhood of the Kingdom, said Baptists are most noted for “the exact side of our nature,” and that our literal interpretation of baptism is the best example of such exactness. J. O. Rust made the same argument: “We should amend our current phraseology and talk about the Baptist principle instead of Baptist principles.” Others argued for a regenerate membership, or soul liberty as the singular distinctive. A. H. Lewis, a Seventh Day Baptist pastor, argued in 1892 that the seventh day Sabbath was more important than baptism for his people. Several argued that Baptists had no more distinctives because evangelical Protestantism had embraced them all. Several others argued that there is nothing unique about our distinctives, but our uniqueness is that we hold tightly to a particular set of beliefs as a unique “bundle.”
Eight different speakers were found who listed a “bundle” of Baptist distinctives, from four to eight in number. Both scriptural authority and a regenerate membership were held by six of these. Soul freedom was next with five, then two ordinances (Baptism and Lord’s Supper) and autonomous congregations with three. Five more distinctives were listed by two speakers: Jesus as the standard of faith and practice; voluntarism; the separation of Church and state; the priesthood of all believers; and missions and evangelism. Receiving one mention in these lists were: restricted communion; immersion; the deity of Christ; and two church officers (pastor and deacon).
 E. Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1908).
 “Statement of Identity – Message From the Centenary Congress,” Baptist World Alliance Congress, Birmingham, Great Britain, 2005. (Handout at the Congress. Available online at the BWA Heritage & Identity Commission website)
 G. D. Boardman, “The Organic Union of Christendom, or The Problem of Ecclesiastical Unity,“ Proceedings of the 1887 Baptist Congress, p. 5.
 J. O. Rust, “Relation of Baptists to Other Denominations,“ Proceedings of the 1896 Baptist Congress, p. 151.
 A. H. Lewis, “Is a Union of Various Baptist Bodies Feasible?” Proceedings of the 1892 Baptist Congress, p. 37.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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)
“The Ph.D. in Religion [of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology] with a focus on Baptist studies will be interdepartmental, engaging faculty from across the University and partnering with Mercer’s Eula Mae and John Baugh Center for Baptist Leadership. Graduates from this Ph.D. program are expected to become pastor-scholars, teachers in universities and seminaries and leaders in denominational and ministry organizations.” (link)
“The growing perception is that the church’s message and methods are remnants of another era. The power of a transformational gospel seems to get lost amid television preachers more focused on drawing a crowd than drawing people to Jesus. It gets lost when those on the right view people as ‘targets’ for conversion rather than individuals who need to find forgiveness, hope and love at the feet of Jesus. They continue to call people to fear God rather than to fall in love with God. It is a graceless gospel. It gets lost when those on the left want to do good but fail to bring a vocal witness of the way to Jesus. They demonstrate goodness but in their silence offer a graceless gospel. We are not called to be good, but to belong to God as God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ.” Tom Ogburn, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City (link)
February 25-27, 2013 — Churchworks, Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Join Princeton University professor and author Kenda Creasey Dean to discuss the church, culture and our response to the times in which we find ourselves. ChurchWorks combines worship and small group time in a setting where ministers deepen their understanding of ministry, discover new ideas and meet others who are also in vocational ministry. More information.
March 10-13, 2013 — Advocacy in Action, Washington, D.C. Join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on a three day journey to become a voice for the world’s poor and marginalized, to advocate for religious liberty, and to witness a local missional congregation in action. 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.