Baptist Studies Bulletin January 2013

An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today

[Vol. 12, No. 1]

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.

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“The Evangelical, Catholic and Muslim War on Freedom”
by Bruce T. Gourley

“Frank Impressions”
A Hebrew Poet, a Roman Deity, and Garth Brooks
by Richard F. Wilson

“Reflections on Baptists and Culture”
Churches and Climate Change
by Aaron Weaver

Register for the 2013 BH&HS Conference
“Faith, Freedom and Forgiveness: Religion and Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in Our Times”
Richmond, Virginia, May 20-22, 2013

“Notes and Quotes”
Responses to Current Happenings

Dates and Events


by Bruce T. Gourley

What is the enemy of religion? While evil is often the answer, a poll focused on religious liberty in America and released this month by the Barna Group points in a much different direction.

When asked if all citizens should be allowed freedom of conscience, 86%+ of all respondents answered affirmatively. Yet this apparent nearly-universal embrace of religious freedom for all is entirely at odds with the responses given to certain other questions.

Respondents were asked if they agreed with the statement, “No one set of values should dominate the country.” Only 37% of evangelicals voiced agreement, while 73% of millennials (18-28 years of age) affirmed the inclusive statement.

Respondents were also asked if “Traditional Judeo-Christian values should be given preference in the U.S.” While 54% of evangelicals said yes, only 21% of millennials agreed.

The takeaway from the Barna poll is that in practice, evangelicals want to limit the freedoms of non-Christians, a conclusion reflective of the history of the theocratic-tinged American Christian Right. This selfish view of freedom is contrasted with millennials, who are committed to freedom for all. Considering that evangelicals (100 million strong, representing roughly one-third of the population) are largely conservative and are politically, socially and culturally powerful, their opposition to equal freedom for those outside their clan is understandable. But who are the young people who dare to advocate for equal freedom for all?

According to a recent survey of millennials, more are “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) than are Catholics or white evangelicals or white mainline Christians. The majority of these young people describe modern-day Christianity as hypocritical, judgmental and anti-gay. In short, they see religion waging a war on freedom, and in response are increasingly siding with freedom by distancing themselves from religion.

While the “nones” are emerging as a new development in American life, the evangelical, Catholic and Muslim war on freedom is an ages-old conflict that shows no evidence of going away. Evangelicals are but the new kids on the block when it comes to bullying others. Their faith forebears–Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Anglican Church, the Pilgrims, the Puritans–of the 16th-18th centuries were relentlessly devoted to persecuting dissenters. Baptists held the distinction of being among the worst of heretics, a people believed by proper Christians to be non-Christian–“nones” in today’s terminology.

Yet the favored faith groups that emerged from the Protestant Reformation were themselves inheritors of a long legacy of anti-freedom ideology. Upon the merging of church and state under the emperor Constantine in the fourth century, Christianity (soon under the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church) declared war on dissenters. The Church Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, fueled by politics, obliterated freedom and unleashed the death penalty upon non-conformists (heretics).

For the next thousand years, the basic choice in Christendom was to submit to Church authorities or risk persecution, imprisonment or death. While in more modern times the Roman Catholic Church no longer employs the death penalty, the Church continues its efforts to deny religious freedom to those (Catholic or not) who do not agree with the Church’s magisterium.

Meanwhile, Muslim nations harbor a long history of demanding conformity and uniformity of society and culture to Islamic scripture. In much of the African and Eastern world today, Islamic law governs nations, while infringements of religious law often warrant harsh punishment, including execution.

As Martin Marty and Scott Appleby document in their massive The Fundamentalism Project, conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholic authorities, and conservative Muslims battle freedom with common weapons: inerrant holy texts and mandated human creeds, strict sexual codes, patriarchy and suppression of women, punishment of improper belief and behavior, and a black and white worldview.

Baptists, of all people, in their traditional incarnation are intimately familiar with the long-running war on freedom. But whereas early Baptists chose to fight Christian efforts to suppress freedom, today’s “nones” are opting for an entirely different strategy: the exercising of their freedom by abandoning institutional religious faith, and often faith altogether.

The Baptist leaven in the American experiment eventually yielded the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing religious liberty for all, the very concept that today’s conservative evangelicals, Roman Catholic authorities, and conservative Muslims, in practice, often oppose. Now, the rapid growth of “nones” is moving America in the direction of a less religious, and concurrently freer (some might say secular), society. Left unanswered is where conservative evangelicals will dig future ideological trenches, how far Roman Catholic authorities (led by a pope who has already backtracked on Vatican II reforms) will reach into the past to suppress dissenting voices, and (outside of Christendom and America) the extent to which Islamic-governed nations will resort to physical persecution and executions in order to enforce proper faith and action among the citizenry.

And yet, perhaps an effective counter to Christians and Muslims who war against freedom is the unchurching of America’s young people. When deprived of majoritarian status, power and privilege, religious groups historically (including Baptists) have often embraced freedom for all, modeling Christ’s command of loving neighbor as oneself. Today, the “nones” forsaking of formal church is not altogether different from early Baptists’ rejection of official Christendom.

For the sake of future generations, here’s hoping that freedom-loving Baptists and freedom-driven “nones” will seek ways to work together to help bring an end to the religious war on freedom.


A Hebrew Poet, a Roman Deity, and Garth Brooks
By Richard F. Wilson

Richard F. WilsonRick 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.

What do a Hebrew poet, a Roman deity, and a Garth Brooks song have in common? The Hebrew poet is the writer of Ecclesiastes (also called Qoheleth). The Roman deity is Janus (link to image, attached), the keeper of gates and doorways who is remembered in the name of the first month of the year, January, the gateway month of every new year. The Garth Brooks song is “The Dance,” with its haunting opening words, “Looking back . . . .”

What do they have in common? Give up?

Qoheleth, Janus, and Garth Brooks all know that time stretches forwards and backwards. We know it too, but we need to be reminded every now and again. The Hebrew poet gives us the image of time that forms a circle, “there is a time for every matter under heaven,” and teaches us that life is constantly moving between the upside and downside, and that God is always present. Laughter will give way to tears and tears will give way to laughter, for example. That is the rhythm of life, the rhythm of God in life.

The very image of Janus tells the truth of time that moves forwards and backwards. Janus is that two-faced Roman god who constantly looks to the past and to the future. The wisdom of Janus is hard to miss. Moving toward the future without taking seriously the lessons of the past is folly. Likewise, trying to preserve a past without regard for a changing future is foolish.

And Garth. In “The Dance” he reminds us that the future is always the place where the mysteries of the past are revealed. With more emotion than we can sometimes bear Garth strikes the truth that today’s pain is almost always the fruit of yesterday’s pleasure. “I could have missed the pain,” he sings, “but I’d a had to miss the dance.”

Put aside the calendar, at least for a moment. The calendar offers an illusion of objectivity, certainty, and order. The calendar, like the clock, is a convenient—and even necessary—way to keep up with schedules, appointments, and commitments. The calendar and clock may help order our lives, but they do not help us plumb the depth of our lives. What is real in life is more than calendar and clock.

Plumbing the depth of our lives requires the likes of Qoheleth, Janus, and Garth Brooks. They remind us of the vital and spiritual, yes, the spiritual, dimension of marking time. To think of time only in objective or scientific terms robs us all of the rich horizon of life. Marking time is a necessary part of our shared lives. Schedules, appointments, and commitments are important. But life is more than following a calendar or clock.

Marking time with attention to the spiritual means that we are part of the passing of time, part of what is enduring about time, part of mystery of God’s presence in the midst of time itself.

So. Mark time. Mark time with your heart and soul as well as with your calendar and clock.


Churches and Climate Change
By Aaron Weaver

Aaron WeaverAaron Weaver is Communications Manager for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  Weaver blogs at The Big Daddy Weave and is the author of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom (Smyth & Helwys, 2011).

When the House of Representatives voted on January 2 to pass the much ballyhooed fiscal cliff deal, President Barack Obama appeared on national television to offer a few stern words for his detractors.  Toward the end of his statement, Obama called on Democrats and Republicans to work together and not allow the deficit and looming debt ceiling debates to be “so all-consuming all the time that it stops us from meeting a host of other challenges that we face.”  The president cited “protecting our planet from the harmful effects of climate change” as one of the nation’s most pressing problems.

Yet, despite this tough talk, neither presidential candidate emphasized climate change during the 2012 election cycle.  The president and his party were noticeably silent on the environmental front.  The media was quiet as well.  The Huffington Post recently reported that media coverage of climate change declined in 2012.  According to one analysis, popular Sunday morning news programming devoted less than eight minutes to this pressing challenge.  Ironically, this decline came as the United States enjoyed its warmest year, prompting numerous pundits and editorial boards to ask whether there will be any action on climate change in 2013.

Since the birth of the modern environmental movement in the late 1960s, churches and denominations have generally been followers rather than leaders when it comes to environment-related problems.  Not surprisingly then, churches and denominations have been at least as silent, if not more, than the media and our elected officials over the past year.  There are, of course, notable exceptions to this observation.  Mainline Protestant denominations have continued their advocacy efforts.  However, their influence in American culture is, as sociologist Robert Wuthnow has keenly observed, an increasingly quiet influence.

Evangelicals and Catholics have been especially quiet on environmental issues lately.  Just a handful of years ago, centrist and conservative evangelicals were coming together to acknowledge the reality of climate change and its potential impact on the earth and specifically the poor.  In April 2008, a group of prominent Southern Baptist leaders endorsed a widely-publicized statement on the environment to this effect.  Fast-forward four years and there is little environment-related public conversation happening among this same group of endorsers.  With very limited exceptions, Baptists off all varieties have failed to address environmental issues.

So, what happened?  What is the reason for this collective ignoring of environmental issues?  One obvious explanation is the economy.  Historically, environmental issues have only been prioritized during times of economic prosperity.  Environmentalism and recessions do not mix well.  A healthy, clean environment is often viewed as a luxury that cannot be afforded in a stagnant or slow-growing economy.  The economy versus environment debate presents a false dichotomy as many scholars over the years have demonstrated.  But that is a different topic best left for another day!

With the nation’s economy on better footing, will more attention be paid to environmental issues such as climate change in 2013?  Will churches and denominations once again discover that climate change is a challenge that is not going away?  Will all involved begin to move from words to action?  Will Baptists begin to collectively make good on their past promises and commitments to care for all of God’s creation and be active participants in the search for solutions to environment-related problems?

I am hopeful that the answer to all of the above questions is yes.  And when speaking up, we Baptists should recover the language of eco-justice.  Forty years ago, American Baptists coined that term after attending an historic United Nations summit on the environment in Stockholm, Sweden.  American Baptist leaders such as Owen Owens and Jitsuo Morikawa invested much time and energy in the early 1970s to giving eco-justice theological meaning rooted in the Baptist tradition and our commitment to individual freedom.  Merging the concepts of ecological wholeness and social justice, American Baptists pursued an effective form of environmental engagement.  This type of environmental engagement would again be beneficial to Baptists looking to transform verbal commitments of days past into concrete action in the public square.  It is time for Christians in general and Baptists in particular to be leaders rather than followers when it comes to caring for God’s creation.


“Faith, Freedom, Forgiveness: Religion and Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in Our Time”
Richmond, Virginia, May 20-22, 2013

fallofrichmondThe annual meeting of the Baptist History & Heritage Society is shaping us as the largest and most significant conference in the history of the Society. In conjunction with the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies, we are exploring the theme of “Faith, Freedom and Forgiveness: Religion and the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in Our Time.” Hosted by the University of Richmond and Virginia Union University and timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the conference explores the role of religion during the war for freedom and the 150 years that have followed. Renowned Civil War historians Harry S. Stout (Yale Divinity School) and Edward L. Ayers (University of Richmond) are headlining the conference. Black and white Baptist and other religious leaders from Richmond and Washington, D.C. will be making presentations on Racial Reconciliation. The program includes tours of Civil Rights museums and special lunch and dinner events. Pre-conference events include tours of Civil War battlefields and special Sunday programs in churches throughout Richmond. If you attend only one religious history conference in 2013, this is the one you don’t want to miss! Click here to view the conference program and to register.



“….frightening, disproportionate and reminiscent of the Inquisition.” Tony Flannery, Irish Catholic priest, responding to the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who is threatening excommunication on grounds of “heresy” if Flannery does not recant his published claims that the Roman Catholic priesthood is unbiblical. Flannery points to the “Spanish Inquisition-style campaign” as indicative of the conservative shift of the Church under Pope Benedict XVI. (link)

“Unlike every other group, [American] Evangelicals overwhelmingly oppose traditional pluralism and believe instead that Christian values should be given preference in the United States.” A summary of the conclusions of a Barna study released in January 2013. (link)


Upcoming events of interest to Baptists

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). More information.

November 14-16, 2013 – Judson Conference 2013, a joint conference sponsored by the American Baptist Historical Society and McAfee School of Theology. More information.
We welcome submissions to this list of Baptist events.