Thanks for your kind words about Mainstream Baptists. We are indeed calling Baptists back to their birthright as advocates for liberty of conscience and we are not alone.
While the news media has been fixated on the political antics of the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, moderate and progressive Baptists across America have been quietly working to forge new alliances. Some reconfigurations are taking place that may strengthen the voice of traditional Baptists. In June 2007 American Baptists (Baptists in the North) and Cooperative Baptists (moderate Baptists that left the SBC in 1990) are holding a historic first joint session in Washington, D.C. A few months later, Mainstream Baptists are involved in planning a meeting for all North American Baptists.
Bill Underwood, President of Mercer University, described the significance of this new movement with these words:
There are whispers of an exciting new movement emerging in Baptist life. Within the past several weeks, leaders of Baptist organizations representing more than 20 million Baptists have launched an unprecedented initiative to advance the Kingdom through the combined voice and work of Baptists throughout North America. Baptists from the North and from the South. Black and white Baptists, conservative, moderate and progressive Baptists joining together in a covenant — the North American Baptist Covenant — to affirm “their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times.”
David asked what features of modern American society created the opportunity for the ideological development of the Christian Right religio-political machine. Here are some of features that I think have been most overlooked in reporting about the rise of the Religious Right:
The Civil Rights Movement. Randall is one of the few who have written about the abortion myth that the Religious Right developed to explain their conception. He emphasizes the role that the 1972 Green v. Connally decision played in motivating religious conservatives to organize politically. Anyone with a memory that extends back to the mid-1960′s knows that the names and faces of the religious leaders who opposed Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and school integration are largely the same as those who led the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980′s.
Christian Reconstructionism. I think Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto served as a bridge from more traditional conservative evangelical thought to the theocratic ideology of Rousas J. Rushdoony. Schaeffer and Rushdoony always shared a presuppositionalist apologetic and a belief that the U.S. was founded as a Christian Nation. Schaeffer’s latest writings also appear to be encouraging some form of Christian Dominionism.
The Council for National Policy. In 1981 Tim LaHaye, Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie founded a secretive Christian lobbying group which appears to have played a significant role in frequently bringing together America’s most powerful conservative politicians, journalists, lawyers, and industrialists to strategize about politics and public policy with Christian right leaders .
I would be interested in learning what the two of you think about these features of modern American life.
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I returned last night from a weekend in North Carolina — a meeting at the National Humanities Center on Saturday, and then on Saturday night a lecture and discussion at the Regulator Bookstore in Durham and on Sunday morning a gathering at the Unitarian Universalist church in Raleigh. The latter two events, as you might guess, centered around Thy Kingdom Come.
I gave a presentation and a short synopsis of the book, including a brief account of the second chapter, “Where Have All the Baptists Gone?: Roy’s Rock, Roger Williams, and the First Amendment.” I made my passionate plea for the recovery of the Baptist tradition in America, especially noting the importance of safeguarding the separation of church and state.
The lectures were well-received, but what surprised me somewhat was the number of people who stood during the question-and-answer session to declare that they are real Baptists — meaning that they remain faithful to the Baptist tradition of maintaining the line of separation between church and state. What I found especially striking was the pride in their voices as they affirmed Baptist principles. The audience (well over a hundred in both venues) applauded lustily.
In checking my e-mail messages this morning, I found a kind note from Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee. He thanked me for the book, but he also reminded me that there are indeed a good number of real Baptists left in America, so I’d like to use this post to underscore that fact.
You and your organization of Mainstream Baptists are another example of people who seek to call Baptists back to their birthright. I applaud all of you. Keep up the good fight against the counterfeit Baptists. It’s important for the integrity of the faith, and it’s essential for the future of America.
Keep the faith,
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For the second time in less than a month, radical right leaders (those champions of family values) have used the family of a political candidate as a target for attack. In late July it was the shameful questioning of the sexual orientation of Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland and his wife. The most recent attack has taken place in Arkansas at the hands of the American Family Association. This email, sent to the AFA’s supporters last week, speaks for itself (hat-tip to the Arkansas Times for the find):
If you are a member of the United Methodist Church, I felt you would be interested in the two sermons preached by Rev. Betsy Singleton, pastor of Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church in Little Rock. If you are not a United Methodist, please forward this to any friends you may have who are United Methodist.
Rev. Singleton is probably better known as being the wife of U.S. Representative Vic Snyder.
Sermon: Is Homosexuality a Sin? — click here
Sermon: Is Christianity the Only Way? — click here
Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman
American Family Association
The AFA can’t come right out and campaign against Rep. Snyder, so they drop this hint to their base as election season approaches. As usual, the willingness of these groups to manipulate religion for partisan gain seems to know no bounds.
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Dear Randall and Bruce,
First of all, thanks to you both for taking the time to join in this exchange. You’re both experts in this field, so it’s a real treat to have you bouncing ideas off of one another.
I have a feeling that the two of you agree on a good many things about the current state of Baptist thought on the First Amendment. So allow me to throw a question or two out there that may stir the pot a bit. Bruce, I found your closing question compelling, and would like to hear both of you spend a good bit of time actually answering it. Why, in God’s name, are Baptists erecting monuments to Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts?
The well-developed Christian Right religio-political machine undoubtedly has something to do with answering this question. But that seems to me to be only half of the answer. Why has that machine found such fertile ground for its ideas, especially since they seem to fly in the face of so much history? What features of modern American society created the opportunity for such ideological development?
It seems to me that these questions have a lot to do with how one responds to the Christian Right. How do we critique the Right whlie offering an alternative vision that imbues American public life with enough meaning to sustain our republican project? In other words, what different prescription should we offer for the ailments that the Christian Right has manipulated to its own advantage?
Many thanks, and looking forward to how the conversation progresses next week,
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It is truly a delight to be in dialogue with someone who understands real Baptists so well. The chapter on “Where Have All the Baptists Gone?” in your new book Thy Kingdom Come is one of the best summations in print regarding the about face that many Baptists have made toward the First Amendment.
For lifelong Baptists like myself, it is hard to believe that the Baptist legacy as advocates for liberty of conscience and separation of church and state could be so thoroughly disowned by the descendants of those who literally paid with their own blood to give it to later generations.
Few who review the original sources for themselves would disagree with your crediting the Separatist-Puritan-Baptist-Seeker Roger Williams with conceiving the metaphor for a “wall of separation” between church and government. Unfortunately, the writings of the revisionist historians and theocrats within the Religious Right have been so widely disseminated and broadcast over the last quarter century that the facts of history are no longer perceived as valid.
I think the concerted effort by the Religious Right to place Decalogue displays on public property comprises the spearhead of a campaign to establish Christianity as this nation’s official religion. This morning’s newspaper reveals that another Ten Commandments monument is being erected on public property in Oklahoma. A decision is still pending over the monument to American theocracy that was erected on the Haskell County Courthouse lawn in Stigler, Oklahoma.
Eighty percent of the population in Haskell County Oklahoma claims to be Baptist. A Baptist minister solicited funds and erected the monument to “‘battle’ against Satan” and to affirm this nation’s “Christian heritage.” The heritage being affirmed, however, has more to do with the “democratic theocracy” of the Massachusetts Bay Colony than with the constitutional republic of the United States of America. The Stigler monument placed the Ten Commandments on one side and the Mayflower Compact on the other.
If more Baptists knew the history of Massachusetts Bay Colony, surely fewer of them would approve of monuments to that legacy. Under their system of law and jurisprudence, Baptists, Quakers and other religious dissenters were severely persecuted.
Persecutions over matters of faith in Massachusetts just began with the banishment of Roger Williams. It escalated from there. In the summer of 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall, and Obadiah Holmes — all members of the Baptist Church at Newport, Rhode Island — were arrested and imprisoned for holding an unauthorized worship service in the home of a blind Baptist named William Witter who lived at Lynn, Massachusetts outside Boston. They were sentenced to be fined or whipped. Fines for Clarke and Crandall were paid by friends. Holmes refused to let friends pay his fine and was publicly whipped on the streets of Boston on September 6, 1651. In 1653, Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard University, refused to have his fourth child baptized as an infant and proclaimed that only believers should be baptized. He was forced to resign from his position and banished from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1663, John Myles moved an entire Baptist congregation from Wales to escape the religious persecutions authorized by England’s 1662 Act of Uniformity. They first settled in Massachusetts, but by 1667 the authorities forced the congregation to move to the frontier in Rhode Island.
As bad as it was for Baptists, it was worse for Quakers. William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and William Leddra are listed among the Quaker martyrs in Massachusetts. The last Quaker martyr in Massachusetts, Mary Dyer, was hanged in the Boston Common on June 1, 1660. All died in defiance of a law banning Quakers from Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Why, in God’s name, are Baptists erecting monuments to Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts?
Looking forward to your thoughts,
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