An Electronic Baptist Journal Bridging Yesterday and Today
[Vol. 14, No. 6]
Editor: Bruce T. Gourley, executive director, Baptist History and Heritage Society
The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB) is a free online journal produced by the Baptist History and 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
“Historical Reflections on the Terrorism in Charleston”
by Bruce T. Gourley
“Why I am a CBF Baptist”: Voices of Young Baptists
by Julie Whidden Long
Associate Pastor and Minister of Children and Families
First Baptist Church of Christ, Macon, GA
“For Baptists of America, is 2015 a Reprise of 1845?”
by Bruce T. Gourley
Nurturing Faith Experiences
September 28 – October 2, 2015 — Coastal Georgia
October 22-23, 2015 — Chattanooga, TN
New Resources for Baptists
Books and Beyond
HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS ON THE TERRORISM IN CHARLESTON
by Bruce T. Gourley
The following article is a slightly expanded version of an article that was first published online at Baptists Today.
On the morning of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in the wake of many seemingly unjustified killings of black men throughout America, including in North Charleston, South Carolina Senator Clementa Pinckney was in his senate office. A senator since 2001, he was known for having been one of two senate members to cast “No” votes against a Voter ID law designed to suppress black votes. He cast this vote and others under the shadow of the Confederate flag on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.
That afternoon Pinckney, a pastor, drove from Columbia to Charleston in order to lead several church meetings at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including a Wednesday night Bible study. The same afternoon a young white man, Dylann Roof, from the Columbia area, drove to Charleston, to Pinckney’s church.
Both men carried with them the Civil War legacy of a state and region yet rent asunder by racism and hatred. Pinckney bore the name of Charles Pinckney, early South Carolina governor, signer of the United States Constitution, largescale slaveholder, and zealous defender of black slavery. Charles Pinckney demanded that slavery be preserved in the Constitution, and he and his fellow South Carolina delegates got their way. Roof bore within him the same white supremacist ideology of Charles Pinckney, an ideology that from the antebellum era through the 1960s led to untold white terrorist atrocities against blacks, including thousands of lynchings and other murders, as well as hundreds of thousands of other violent and depraved acts against black men, women and children.
The city of Charleston also bore a southern legacy. The ideological center of the slave-holding South, Charleston more than any other city was responsible for the growth of black slavery in the 19th century as the economic engine of the South. The city also led the way in the southern rebellion against the United States in order to preserve the institution of black slavery.
In addition, the Emanuel A.M.E. Church also bore a legacy from the past. In 1822 Denmark Vesey, a free black and co-founder of the church, sought to rally Charleston’s enslaved blacks to an insurrection against plantation owners. City leaders, learning of the plot, put to death Vesey and many of his co-conspirators, burned the church to the ground, and shortly thereafter enacted “Act to Establish a Competent Force to Act as a Municipal Guard for the Protection of the City of Charleston and its vicinity.” The Citadel arsenal and military academy was thereafter established to guard against future slave rebellions.
Amidst generations of slavery and oppression, many black Southerners considered the black church as the one institutional refuge where they should be safe from the ever-lurking presence of racism and hatred. Nonetheless, hundreds of terrorist bombings and burnings of black churches throughout the 20th century to the present have been particularly painful to America’s black community. The election of Barack Obama as U.S. president brought renewed hope and a sense of pride among black citizens, yet also spurred a surge in the growth of white supremacist groups in the nation.
Against this backdrop Dylann Roof was welcomed into Charleston’s A.M.E. church on June 17 by pastor Clementa Pinckney, as he would have been in any other black church in America. But in the midst of the Bible study Roof became argumentative and then violent. “You rape our women and you are taking over our country,” he told church members, as he gunned down nine of the twelve present at the Bible study. Dylann’s words echoed the false narrative perpetuated by white southerners in the post-Civil War years. In reality, the raping of black women by white men was commonplace from antebellum days until well into the 20th century. Accusing black men of such largely-fictitious crimes allowed guilty white men to deflect attention from their own widespread, heinous acts.
Roof’s murder of nine black individuals with an ill-begotten gun represents yet another Southern legacy. In the late 18th century Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention insisted that the newly-formed United States recognize the right of slaveholding states to raise militias to put down slave rebellions. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” read the final wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, providing slaveholding states the security they demanded.
But the gun story does not end there. As late as the 1970s the National Rife Association (founded 1871) supported gun control, including laws allowing the government to prohibit criminals and the mentally ill from owning firearms. Had the NRA remained true to their heritage of gun control, Roof, arrested on felony drug charges prior to the shooting, may have been prevented from obtaining a firearm.
Upon his capture Roof appeared in a courtroom, where members of the Emanuel A.M.E. church and family members of the victims, despite pain and anguish over the losses of loved ones, told the young man they forgave him. Here the southern legacy of racism and hatred again raised its ugly head as Roof stood before a white South Carolina judge, James B. Gosnell, known for his racist remarks in the courtroom, including referring to blacks as “n…rs.” True to form, Gosnell immediately set off a furor by equating the murdered and Roof’s family as equal victims, leading to social media petitions calling for his removal from the case.
The Sunday following the terrorist massacre the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church held worship services. “The doors of the church are open,” declared the Rev. Norvel Goff during prayers. “No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God’s church.” Black cloth, weeping and hugging accompanied hymns and the sermon. “It’s by faith that we are standing here and sitting here,” Goff said. “It has been tough. It has been rough. Some of us have been downright angry. But through it all God has sustained us.”
Generation ago slaveowners and the Ku Klux Klan claimed to be following the will of God. White supremacists of the present day often claim to be Christians, as do many others who are racists and people of hate. None of these Jesus would have recognized as his followers.
Jesus taught that all persons are to love others as themselves. The U.S. Declaration of Independence declared the inherent equality of all persons. Adam Smith, the father of free markets and modern economics, defined capitalism as an economic system that distributes wealth equitably. Yet to the present day America remains a nation divided, a nation in which equality remains unrealized, the average wealth of black families is about 5% of that of white families, and many whites look upon blacks with suspicion and condescension. It is little wonder that unrest and anger remains rampant within the black community, and greater wonder that members of the Emanuel A.M.E. church can forgive the terrorist who took so many lives.
America is a nation yet entangled in a legacy of white supremacy and hatred, a legacy summed up by the Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. Removing the flag would be a small step toward healing. Integrated houses of worship as the norm in the Deep South would be a larger step forward. And legislative, judicial and economic equity for blacks and other minorities would place America on a far higher moral and ethical plane than ever before.
Note: On October 22-23 you are invited to join me, fellow historian Bobby Lovett, and Baptists Today editor John Pierce at First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN for a presentation and discussion about the legacy of the American Civil War.
“WHY I AM A CBF BAPTIST”: VOICES OF YOUNG BAPTISTS
by Julie Whidden Long
Associate Pastor and Minister of Children and Families
First Baptist Church of Christ
When I was eight years old, I informed my parents that I was ready to join our Baptist church and be baptized. My mother encouraged me to go and talk to our pastor more about my decision, to which I replied, “I don’t need to go talk to the pastor. I know what I’m doing!”
My family has laughed about this story through the years. I’m sure it was not my parents’ first clue that I would continue in the line of strong, independent women in my family, and I think my parents were embarrassed to tell the pastor that I planned to walk the aisle but refused to come talk to him about it. But perhaps my first declaration of my desire to be a Baptist Christian was indeed appropriate. While I doubt anyone had ever told me of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers or of the Baptist ideals of freedom of conscience or of our history of rugged individualism, I evidently had absorbed that spirit somewhere along the way. But also tucked into that independent decision about my own faith journey was a desire to do that within the community of the church in which I was being raised. I like to think that my earliest Christian confession was deeply Baptist, for Baptists have always held these two in tension – a strong conviction of individual freedom and a deep calling to work together, despite our differences.
I picked up a few other convictions by osmosis in my Baptist church along the way. Even though I found myself bored by church conferences as a youth, I absorbed a preference for making decisions in a way that allows everyone to have a voice. As I wrestled with the place of prayer in public schools for a high school term paper, my pastor led me to understand that religious freedom for all persons was not in conflict with my Baptist Christian heritage. And I picked up enough openness from my Sunday School teachers and youth leaders that my faith was not crushed when I went to college and was exposed to new methods of Biblical interpretation.
I have never seriously considered not being a Baptist Christian. Those core values of intellectual and personal freedom, cooperation, and a respect for the beliefs of others became as much a part of my formation as the ethics and manners and practices instilled in me by my family. Being Baptist is a part of who I am.
Thankfully, because of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other Baptist groups with whom I identify, I continue to claim my “Baptistness.” CBF Baptists uphold these same values and make space for me to live out my calling as a woman in ministry. I am a Baptist because I was born a Baptist and was formed a Baptist. I am a CBF Baptist because in this time and place, this is the Baptist family that embraces and continues to form the convictions that are a part of my core identity.
FOR BAPTISTS OF AMERICA, IS 2015 A REPRISE OF 1845?
by Bruce T. Gourley
The Baptist delegates were firm, repeatedly vowing not to back down. An “evil hour” was at hand. It was clear what “lovers of the Bible” must do. Morality was at stake, doctrinal purity endangered, “scriptural principles” threatened. The truth of the Bible stood in the balance.
But there was “no debate” as to the will of God on the subject. The Bible was the “final authority.” Christians must “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once and for all.”
Caving in to the growing winds of popular sentiment would be sin. In the Bible God had clearly structured the world in ways that should not be violated. “The integrity of the nation” must be upheld, “the interests of truth” maintained. God’s true believers would stand firm for “the Word of God,” staking “their very lives” and their future upon biblical principles.
The issue was neither “racism” nor “prejudice,” but rather one of remaining faithful to God. The “Civil rights” of humanity was not the real issue, but rather “God’s glory” and the “civil rights” and “religious liberties” of Christians. Now was the time to lead, the time to stand up and be counted. “We will not compromise what is God’s,” some insisted. “The integrity of the nation” and “the interests of truth” were at stake.
This moment had been coming for a long time. For years Baptist newspapers had warned that Christian “freedom” and “liberty” were endangered by increasingly anti-Christian politics and policies in the nation’s capitol. But “no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp” what God had established, a resolution declared. One delegate summarized by insisting “we will not bow down nor will we be silent” and “we do not need to redefine what God Himself has defined already.”
When were the above sentiments voiced? Earlier this month at the annual Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Georgia … and in 1845 at the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.*
The sentiments were the same in both meetings. The issue in 1845 was black slavery, whereas the issue today is homosexuality. In both instances the delegates invoked biblical literalism and expressed 100% certainty of scriptural fidelity: black slavery was the will of God that must be preserved in America, and today homosexuality is against the will of God and must be resisted in America. In 1845 those who opposed “African slavery” were heretics, and in 2015 those who condone homosexuality are heretics.
There was, to be certain, push-back from other Baptists in 1845, as there is in 2015. In 1845 American (Northern) Baptists did not wish to separate over the issue of slavery, and today the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches USA, and National Baptist Convention and Progressive Baptist National Convention all allow for disagreements over opinions regarding homosexuality.
For white Baptists of the South following the Civil War, however, over a century passed before the Southern Baptist Convention, backing away from biblical literalism, corporately apologized for the sin of slavery. In so doing the SBC added slavery to the list of biblically-approved practices (from both the Old and New Testament) of which most Baptists oppose, including polygamy, arranged marriages and child marriages.
In short, Baptists (and other Christians) of the modern Western world continue a halting trajectory of rejecting biblically-sanctioned practices that restrict human rights.
In practice, even most fundamentalist Baptists no longer believe in a literal, inerrant Bible. The SBC’s earlier admission that slavery is a sin represented the beginning of a slow death for inerrancy within the denomination. And in time and apart from extremist fringes, opposition to homosexuality will be added to the list of biblical positions that are no longer relevant in a modern world in which truth is yet unfolding.
* Notes: The quotes are a combination of the 1845 Southern Baptist Convention Minutes and news coverage of the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention (Fox News, ABC News, Times Picayune, Baptist Press and Baptist News Global).
BH&HS is partnering with Baptists Today to offer two upcoming unique and exciting events.
September 28-October 2
Experience the beauty of God’s creation and dialogue about Baptist faith, history and theology. Hike, bike and tour pristine coastline and historical sites of Jekyll and Cumberland islands. Theologian John Franke, author of Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth, will lead the group in theological conversation. Bruce Gourley is co-faciliator and will lead a photography workshop. Click here for more information.
Join historians Bruce Gourley and Bobby Lovett for dinner and a dialogue about Baptists during the American Civil War and the legacy of the war.
The event will be held at the First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, 506 E. 8th Street.
A tour of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park is included.
Click here for more information.
Baptist Identity: The Texas Baptist Heritage Center has released a Baptist Identity Series resource kit. Longtime Baptist professor and denominational leader William H. Pinson, Jr. is the lead producer of the series that is a combination of print and digital materials. For more information, visit baptistdistinctives.org.
Women in Ministry: Judith Anne Bledsoe Bailey is the author of a new volume, Strength for the Journey: Feminist Theology & Baptist Women Pastors. The book is published by the Center for Baptist Heritage & Studies at the University of RIchmond. Glenn Hinson calls the volume “an incisive and insightful analysis of the way feminist theology has undergirded the call of women to ministry in Baptist contexts.” Click here for more information or to purchase the book.
Crucible of Faith & Freedom is Bruce Gourley’s new book about Baptists and the Civil War. It is a compilation of the “Baptists and American Civil War” series in Baptist Today, with additional essays. The book examines what Baptists — North and South, White and Black — were saying and doing during the Civil War, as a month-by-month summary of the extensive online daily digital journal, civilwarbaptists.com. To order your copy of Baptists and the American Civil War: Crucible of Faith & Freedom, click here.
August 23-26, 2015 — Baptist Ideals Tour. An educational tour of Colonial Williamsburg, VA focused on Baptist history and hosted by CBF North Carolina. More information.
September 28-October 2, 2015 — Nurturing Faith Experience: Coastal Georgia. Adventure and Inspiration. Featuring theologian John Franke. More information.
October 22-23, 2015 — Nurturing Faith Experience: Civil War @ 150. First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee. A conversation about the legacy of the American Civil War. Co-sponsored by the BH&HS and led by historians Bruce Gourley and Bobby Lovett.
October 30-31, 2015 — East Texas Christian Writers Conference at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas, Bruce will lead seminars on “Writing History” and “Writing, Publishing and Marketing in the Digital Age.”
May 23-25, 2015 — Annual conference of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, hosted by Baylor University and Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. The conference will be held in conjunction with the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR) and the Association of Librarians and Archivists at Baptist Institutions (ALABI). The theme is “Perspectives in Baptist History.” Click here for more information.