THE BAPTIST STUDIES BULLETIN
“A Monthly E-magazine Bridging Baptists of Yesterday and Today”
January 2002 Vol. 1 No. 1
Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
Walter B. Shurden, Executive Director Greg Thompson, Baptist Studies Associate
Table of Contents:
I Believe . . . : by Walter B. Shurden
The Baptist Soapbox: by R. Kirby Godsey
Baptists and Books: by Rob Nash
The Baptist Library: Baptist Books: by Jeff B. Pool
The Baptist Stacks: Perusing Periodicals for Baptistiana: by Walter B. Shurden
Baptist Bits: by Doug Weaver
Q and A: by Greg Thompson
Baptistville: by Greg Thompson
I Believe . . . by Walter B. Shurden
I believe . . . that traditional Baptist convictions—what we call “Baptist distinctives"—are more important today than at any time in the last two centuries of Baptist history. Only the 17th and 18th centuries, the period in which Baptists struggled for their right to exist, rival the need today for the Baptist vision of the Christian faith. Today, however, it is our nation, not simply our denomination, which needs a good dose of our distinctives.
I believe this because
. . .fundamentalism has overwhelmed traditional Baptist distinctives in some Baptist circles, causing an almost incurable case of denominational amnesia.
I believe this because
. . .postdenominationalism has duped others into believing that salient features of denominational life are unimportant, even to the point of dropping the denominational name from church signs (surely a violation of the federal legislation known as “the truth in packaging law”).
I believe this because
. . .religious pluralism in 21st century America cries out for the Baptist witness. The Baptist testimony about the need for a free and voluntary faith on the one hand and unapologetic convictions on the other, about religious freedom on the one hand and religious responsibility on the other, about separation of church and state on the one hand and the involvement of religion in the life of the body politic on the other—these historic Baptist tenets demand attention today.
On this last point, the issue of religious pluralism in America, let me urge a book upon you. If you have not seen it, run hurriedly to the bookstore and get a copy of Diana Eck’s A New Religious America. If the first chapter does not convince you of the need for the Baptist witness on religious liberty, nothing will.
Baptist distinctives—freedom of conscience, religious liberty, separation of church and state—,among others, are not monuments mired in the past but ongoing challenges to be met in every generation. Hence, this monthly electronic magazine called The Baptist Studies Bulletin (BSB). The Baptist Studies Bulletin will vary in format and content. In addition to I Believe, a feature that will appear in most issues, we begin with the following:
The Baptist Soapbox, an op-ed essay written by an invited guest;
Baptists and Books, brief notes of books on contemporary American religion and what they say or fail to say about Baptists;
Baptist Books, brief notes of books by and about Baptists;
The Baptist Stacks:Perusing the Periodicals for Baptistiana, same as Baptist Books but with a focus on journals;
Baptist Bits, events, personalities, and stories from the Baptist past and their relevance to the Baptist present;
Q and A, where we pose questions and you pose answers; and
Baptistville, a kind of miscellany catch-all;
The Baptist Studies Bulletin will try hard to subjugate the Baptist instinct toward tribalism to an openness to our sisters and brothers from outside the Baptist tent and even from those good people outside the Christian tent. We will do so without relinquishing in the least our commitment to what we understand the Baptist vision to be.
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The Baptist Soapbox:
An invited guest speaks up and out on things Baptist
(therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The
Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are).
“The Power of the Baptist Idea” by R. Kirby Godsey, President, Mercer University
Baptists are a denomination in decline. The denomination has become deeply introverted, suffering from a paralysis of self-indulgence, mired in trivial disputes, and consumed by impotent political maneuvering. The Baptist organization, as a matter of fact, has become a corporate giant with large bureaucratic superstructures featuring tall office towers, staggering operating budgets, and effective programs of self-promotion. In the environs of such corporate success, it always becomes increasingly difficult for the gospel not to become a casualty of a denominational preoccupation with power and success.
In part, because of the accumulation of properties, wealth, and power, the decline of a denomination is rarely apparent. Denominations lose their spiritual bearings long before they lose their social or economic footing. Like the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation when the wealth and power of the Church was at its height, the call to give was offered as a way of trying to secure God’s pleasure. Indulgences, by any other name, are still indulgences. The simplicity of ministry easily becomes subjugated to the task of preserving the numerical advances of the church or the denomination, coping with inflation and assuring that employment and financial support are preserved. Economics tend to prevail.
In simplest terms, success breeds fear. Success means that there is more success to defend. More achievements are required and more records must be exceeded in order to demonstrate denominational potency. As the sirens of power and success take hold, the focus of ministries often shifts from the helping ministries, such as healthcare, education, hunger relief, toward a focus on numerical accountability of dollars raised and souls saved. The primary goal is more to convert souls than to save lives. The recent change in the priorities of denominational mission programs signal the shift from caring to adding converts, even though the gospel embodied in acts of caring is often more powerful and compelling than the gospel of gaining converts through abstract evangelism. The evangelism of preaching is less messy than the evangelism of caring.
We should, perhaps, ask whether this denominational decline can be reversed. In all candor, probably not. In general, as denominations become more successful, they become more self-absorbed. Large bureaucracies inevitably face erosion and decay. The passion for the gospel becomes largely displaced by the passion to grow the enterprise resulting in an ascendancy of party politics preoccupied with control.
While the decline of the denomination may not be reversed, the Baptist idea will certainly live. The Baptist idea is far more powerful than any specific historical embodiment of that idea. The Baptist idea will live and will flourish in small groups and in certain congregations. The Baptist idea affirms that no person, and no organization or church body, stands between the believer and God. The Baptist denomination, which was begun as a fellowship of folk who were bound together by the energy of this idea that granted freedom and passion has, quite naturally, in its own religious evolution become transformed into a giant intermediate gatekeeper between God and the people, both interpreting the official beliefs of the church and serving as the official agent of ministry. Yet, we should find comfort and courage in the realization that no instance of denominational decline will ever be strong enough to diminish or destroy the power of the Baptist idea.
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Baptists and Books:
Notes of books on American Religion, what they say, don’t
say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists, by Dr. Rob Nash, Dean of the School
of Religion and International Programs, Shorter College, Rome, Georgia.
Baptists: Sharing the Credit and the Blame?
Amanda Porterfield. The Transformation of American Religion: The Story of a Late Twentieth Century Awakening. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 250 pp.
Most of us would agree with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz that Kansas has disappeared and that a brand new American religious world has dawned. We’re just not sure which tornado to blame. Amanda Porterfield, a religion professor at the University of Wyoming, helps us out with the scintillating argument that liberal Protestantism sowed the seeds of its own demise with its modern themes of individualism, institutionalization, and pragmatism. Porterfield assesses the contributions of such Baptists as Walter Rauschenbusch (to liberal Protestantism) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (to the turmoil of the 1960s) but largely ignores Baptist contributions to religious freedom in colonial America and conservative Baptist participation in the evangelical revival of post-1960s America. Still, the book offers considerable insight into the nature of the tornado that hit us.
Baptists: Those Shoes Are Made for Walking
Thomas A. Tweed. Retelling American Religious History. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1997. 300 pp.
Nearly every religious history of the United States tells the same old story of Puritans and tobacco planters who manage to create a nation out of almost nothing. A tacit nod is offered to Native Americans, Catholics and women, but the general assessment is that male, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants built the place. Thomas Tweed and his team of American religious scholars and sociologists beg to differ. Their approach eschews meta-narrative and marginalization and simply tells stories—stories from the perspectives of women and Asians, Native Americans and Canadians—about how these groups understand the nation’s history. Very little is said about Baptists, but then most Baptists have the old Anglo-American perspective down pretty well and probably could benefit from walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins.
Baptists And (As?) Cults
Phillip Jenkins. Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
“Extreme and bizarre religious ideas are so commonplace in American history that it is difficult to speak of them as fringe at all,” says Phillip Jenkins in Mystics and Messiahs. He’s absolutely right! The American religious landscape bulges with kooks and zealots, doomsayers and street preachers (a few of them are/were even Baptists). Jenkins makes the point that Unification Church members today are often viewed with the same suspicion with which Baptists were viewed in the eighteenth century. He helps us to understand the motivations that have characterized fringe religious groups in the nation’s past and, in the process, demystifies such groups today. Given the American affinity for cults, a Baptist ought to read this book in the likely event that a neighbor, family member or fellow church member joins one or starts a new one!
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The Baptist Library: Baptist Books:
Notes of books, past and present, by and
about Baptists, by Dr. Jeff B. Pool, Special Assistant to the President,
Director of Baptist Studies, and Professor of Theology; Brite Divinity School,
Texas Christian University; Fort Worth, Texas.
Baptist Malformation: Recent War against Diversity in the SBC
Jerry Sutton. The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. xviii + 542 pp. $29.99, cloth.
Through the official press of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Jerry Sutton has published the orthodox history of the most recent, lengthy, religio-political conflict within the denomination. The new SBC has placed its imprimatur on the orthodox character of the book, with both three pages of denominational endorsements by fundamentalist church fathers of the new SBC and a foreword by James T. Draper, Jr.
Baptists with an interest in recent Baptist history should read this book not for a genuine historical account of the recent struggles in the SBC but for a very clear summary of the rhetoric and logic that fundamentalist Baptists devised and continue to perpetuate to legitimate their seizure of the SBC. Readers should approach the book with an awareness that they will read an extended treatise in fundamentalist theological propaganda rather than a genuine history of the recent lengthy fundamentalist war against diversity in the SBC. The book does contain much historical information, if the reader has the patience to sift through the author’s murky fundamentalist theology of history to find it.
The author fails to offer either judicious historical description and evaluation or insightful historical conclusions, most often writing entirely outside the parameters of historical inquiry altogether. This book often even exhibits the weakest characteristics of journalistic prose and reasoning. The book’s unalloyed praises for and commendations of the fundamentalists who seized, secured, and consolidated control of the SBC manifest more characteristics of ancient hagiography than of contemporary historiography.
Very few competent historians of Christianity, historians of religions, or historical theologians will take this book seriously as either a fair or an historical assessment of recent Baptist history. Nevertheless, Baptists should read this book if they want to experience an insider’s account of the rationale for, strategy of, and tactics in the massive fundamentalist malformation of the SBC, deceptively labeled as “the conservative resurgence” by the fundamentalists who designed and executed the plans for the new SBC.
Dissent in the Southern Baptist Convention: A Vanishing Tradition?
David Stricklin. A Genealogy of Dissent: Southern Baptist Protest in the Twentieth Century. Religion in the South Series. Edited by John B. Boles. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. Pp. xviii + 229. $36.00, cloth.
David Stricklin’s fascination with Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who criticized their own denomination motivated his study of dissenting Baptists in the SBC, primarily as that dissent related to social issues. In this study, originally the non-Baptist author’s doctoral dissertation in history at Tulane University, Stricklin pursues two questions about dissenters within the SBC: (1) “How did they come to oppose so fundamentally the church home that had given them so much of their identity?” and (2) “What became of them when they did so?”
Stricklin identifies two very different groups of dissenters in the SBC, perceiving an ironic kinship between the two opposed groups. Stricklin classifies the first group of dissenters as “progressives,” Baptists in the SBC who understood that the Christian message applied to the “here and now,” focusing his analysis on the central social issues around which progressive Baptist dissent arose in the SBC: racism and promotion of civil rights; peace as reconciliation between classes and individuals; and women in ordained ministry. Stricklin classifies the second group of Baptist dissenters in the SBC as “fundamentalists,” Baptists who feared and rejected progressive Baptist ideas and agendas, and who eventually wrested control of the SBC from “moderate” Baptists. Between progressive and fundamentalist Baptist dissenters, Stricklin locates a third group of Baptists: moderate Baptists who controlled the SBC prior the “fundamentalist takeover” of the convention and who effectively marginalized both progressive and fundamentalist Baptist dissenters.
Stricklin argues that this struggle against the moderate Baptist preference for compromise between radical alternatives brought progressive and fundamentalist Baptist dissenters closer to one another than either group of dissenters were to the SBC’s moderate Baptists. Accordingly, both marginalization of fundamentalist Baptists by the SBC’s moderate Baptist leadership and the presence of progressive Baptist dissenters finally enabled fundamentalist Baptist dissenters to seize control of the entire denomination.
Baptists from all three categories should read this book for several reasons: as an exercise of openness to self-criticism, for the sake of overcoming the self-righteousness in any of the three groups; as a reminder that one community’s hero represents another community’s heretic; and as an excellent example of an analysis of the SBC by one outside the SBC, rather than a partisan analysis by “progressive,” “fundamentalist,” or “moderate” Baptists themselves. Nonetheless, those interested in the history of the SBC’s most recent struggles will benefit from reading this book. In light of recent history, after reading this book, Baptists may rightly ask this question: Has dissent, as an historical characteristic of Baptist identity, begun to vanish in the SBC?
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The Baptist Stacks: Perusing Periodicals for Baptistiana : Notes of journal articles: what they say, don’t say, almost say, and mis-say about Baptists by Walter B. Shurden, Callaway Professor of Christianity, Executive Director, The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University.
Are you an artsy Baptist?
Karen L. Mulder, “An Ark for the Arts,” Christianity Today 45:12 (October 1, 2001) 75-76.
The fascinating story of John Bunyan Baptist Church in Oxford, England, where pastor James Grote, in collaboration with Peruvian painter Ernesto Lozada-Uzuriaga, created a center for the arts in his small Baptist church. The goal of the center is to incorporate artists into the Christ-anchored community. For more, read the article or go to <www.ark-t.org>.
What’s your Baptist leaning? Liberty or security?
“Life and Liberty,” The Christian Century, 118:34 (12 December 2001) 3.
A really provocative Century editorial, wrestling with the dilemma facing America today of choosing between the securitarians and the libertarians. Surprise! Here is “liberal” ole Century leaning toward security but wisely saying that “both sides are voicing truths.” Makes a Baptist think of Baptist squabbles, so many of which are tugs of war between “authority and freedom.” Neither “authority” nor “freedom” is an absolute. Context makes lots of difference. And the discernment to know when one ought to prevail over the other is the real crunch.
An English Baptist weighs in on pastoral leadership:
Nigel G. Wright, “Inclusive Representation: Towards a Doctrine of Christian Ministry,” The Baptist Quarterly 39:4 (October 2001) 159-174.
In this article the Principal of Spurgeon’s College and Vice-President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain sought “to restate a robust understanding of the nature of the Christian ministry within the communion of churches known as the Baptist Union of Great Britain.” Wright wrestled throughout with the dualities inherent in the Baptist understanding of ministry. Is the work of the Baptist minister merely local (local church) or translocal (denominational and beyond)? Is the ministry an office or a gift? Structural or functional? Authoritative or egalitarian? Constituted or charismatic? Individual or congregational? Wright, if he proves anything, proves that negotiating the dualities is always the hard part of serious theological reflection. For the most part, he negotiates them masterfully. In the end, the author’s “robust” view of the Baptist ministry is one that empowers ministers “with an authority that exceeds that of other members” without seeking to undermine the vision of the ministry of all of God’s people. A most thoughtful, courteous, and stimulating article, and one, as Wright said in his preface, which will not find “universal agreement” among Baptists.
A five-star general weighs in on leadership in general with Baptist
Oren Harari, “Behind Open Doors: Colin Powell’s Seven Laws of Power,” Modern Maturity 45W:1 (Jan/Feb 2002) 49-50.
(Those wet-behind-the-ears, non-AARP readers out there would miss this one if BSB were not so vigilant in combing the stacks!) Leadership, pastoral and otherwise, (deans, university presidents, ministers of education, music, and youth, chairs of deacons, denominational executives, etc.) has always been a knotty topic for Baptists, so we need to learn from whomever we can. You may, therefore, wonder what you can possibly learn from one of the most respected military generals of the twentieth century. Can you apply these Seven Principles to your Baptist leadership role?: (1) Dare to be the Skunk, (2) To Get the Real Dirt, Head for the Trenches, (3) Share the Power, (4) Know When to Ignore Your Advisers, (5) Develop Selective Amnesia, (6) Come up for Air, (7) Declare Victory and Quit. Our suggestion: read this carefully and keep focused on (4) above, including multi-star generals who advise on the topic of leadership.
Karen Armstrong weighs in on globalization. Why should Baptists care?
Karen Armstrong, “Ghosts of our Past: To Win the War on Terrorism, We First Need to Understand its Roots,” Modern Maturity 45W:1 (Jan/Feb 2002) 45-47,70-71.
MM is not part of our standard periodical fare, but this issue genuinely stimulates aging minds. If Baptists do not read the world’s history while reading their own history, they will end up as Exhibit A of A Pitiful Parochialism. Armstrong, author of A History of God and The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism and Islam, opens our eyes to the historical ghosts of the past. In the process she helps us understand the importance of reading and studying history as an essential part of the war against terrorism. Claiming that 9-11 was an “apocalypse,” a “revelation,” an “unveiling,” Armstrong reads history ethically to ask, “What can we do to prevent a repetition of the tragedy?” Her answer: “develop a 'one world' mentality in the coming years.” Developing a “one world mentality” is finding lots of ink these days. It is called “globalization.” See, for example, Douglas A. Hicks, “Thinking Globally,” The Christian Century, 12 December 2001, 14-17. Do we Baptists have anything in our history to help with developing a “one world” mentality? Weren’t Baptists of the seventeenth century the ones who suggested that living civilly in a religiously pluralistic world is a possible—rather than impossible—dream?
Globalization: A Baptist Style
Keith Parks, “The First Decade of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Global Mission,” The Whitsitt Journal 8:2 (Fall, 2001) 6-12.
In case you are not a member of The William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society and, therefore, not a reader of The Whitsitt Journal, you are missing out on some significant Baptist history, especially for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) type Baptists. The spring 2001 issue contained an interview with Cecil Sherman, a person of immense historical importance for Baptists in the South. Now this current issue follows up with an article by Baptist missiologist Keith Parks. Serving as the first full-time Global Missions Coordinator for CBF, Parks shaped the missionary philosophy that has guided CBF to focus on “World A.” World A refers to the 25% of the world’s population which has little or no access to the gospel. Here is an article that will help any CBF preacher the next time he or she preaches on world missions. Non-CBF Baptists can learn here where CBFers spend most of their money and why.
P.S. To become a member of The William H. Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society and subscribe to The Whitsitt Journal, send $15 to: Whitsitt Baptist Heritage Society, 1717 Shenandoah Drive, Vidalia, GA 30474.
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Anecdotes from the Baptist archives with relevance for preaching
and teaching today, by Dr. Doug Weaver, Chair, Division of Religion and
Philosophy and Barney Averitt Professor of Christianity, Brewton-Parker College,
Mt. Vernon, GA.
Bible, not Creeds
W. B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was an anti-creedal Baptist who was willing to rely on the Bible as his standard for faith. He wrote, "Keeping this first principle in view, that Christ is the one Lord of his people, and has given the revelation of his will in a complete and perfect code of laws and precepts, the impropriety of having any human selection and compilation of these, as a standard of faith and practice, is manifestly evident. If it be said that the compilation thus prepared contains what is in the Bible, the question comes up, why then form the compilation? Why not use the Bible as the standard? Can man present God's system in a selection and compilation of some of its parts, better than God has himself done it, as a whole in his own book?"
Christ over Creeds
W. B. Johnson believed that the Lordship of Christ, not creeds, was the key to unity and cooperation in congregational life. During his tenure as first president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1846), he wrote, "The value of the Christocratic form of government consists in this, that each acting in reference to Christ alone, all will be conformed to Christ, and thus conformed to each other. And this is the manner by which uniformity is to be secured and preserved, and not by confederations of churches, confessions of faith, or written codes of formularies framed by man, as bonds of union for the churches of Christ."
Creeds and the Formation of the SBC
When the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845, the new organization issued an "Address to the Public" to explain the reasons for its formation. The name of W. B. Johnson, the first president of the SBC, appears at the end of the document in the 1845 annual of the convention. Most likely the author, Johnson affirmed the anti-creedal heritage of Baptists: "We have constructed for our basis no new creed; acting in this matter upon a Baptist aversion for all creeds but the Bible."
Creeds before the Scriptures?
John Leland, the ardent colonial Virginia Baptist advocate for religious liberty, warned against the potential idolatry of creedalism. He wrote, "What need of a confession of faith? Why this Virgin Mary between the souls of men and the scriptures? Had a system of religion been essential to salvation, or even to the happiness of the saints, would not Jesus, who was faithful in all his house, have left us one? If he has, it is accessible to all. If he has not, why should a man be called a heretick because he cannot believe what he cannot believe, though he believes the Bible with all his heart? But after all, if a confession of faith, upon the whole, may be advantageous, the greatest care should be taken not to sacralize, or make a petty Bible out of it."
Tyrants love Creeds
John Leland was the most radical supporter of religious liberty in colonial Virginia. He recognized the danger to liberty of conscience in the coerced conformity of creedalism. Hear Leland's bold words: "Confessions of faith often check any further pursuit after truth, confine the mind into a particular way of reasoning, and give rise to frequent separations. To plead for their utility, because they have been common, is as good sense, as to plead for a state establishment of religion, for the same reason; and both are as bad reasoning, as to plead for sin, because it is everywhere. It is sometimes said that hereticks are always averse to confessions of faith, I wish I could say as much of tyrants."
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Q and A:
We ask in one sentence, you tell in four sentences.
Question for February 2002: If you could write only four sentences to a pulpit committee chair of a Baptist church in these turbulent times, what would you say? Respond to <Thompson_MG@Mercer.edu> by 5 February 2002.
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Baptistville: Goings-on Among Baptists
Look to hear lots more from this very good Baptist: A. Roy Medley. On 14 January 2002 he begins a four-year term as General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
Conferences and Lectures:
Dr. James Forbes of The Riverside Church in New York City delivers the Harry Vaughan Smith Lectures, Feb 19-20, 2002, Mercer University. Contact Dr. Richard F. Wilson, Chair, The Roberts Department of Christianity, Mercer University, <Wilson_RF@Mercer.edu>.
Dr. William E. Hull leads a one day conference on April 9 at Mercer University, Macon, GA. Topic: “The Neo-Apocalyptic and Baptist Life: `Left Behind’ Theology and Our World Crisis.” Sponsor: The Center for Baptist Studies of Mercer University. Contact: Greg Thompson @ 478 301 5467 or <Thompson_MG@Mercer.edu>.
Drs. Rollin Armour, Robert G. Gardner, and Doug Weaver lead a one day conference on Friday, May 3 at Mercer University. Topic: “How to Write a Good Local Church History.” Sponsor: The Center for Baptist Studies of Mercer University. Contact: Greg Thompson @ 478 301 5467 or <Thompson_MG@Mercer.edu>.
Publishers of Baptist Materials:
The Particular Baptist Press, 2766 West Weaver Road, Springfield, MO, 65810, is doing some valuable publishing in Baptist history. Among other things, they are producing a two volume set of The Life and Ministry of John Gano that includes the unabridged Biographical Memoirs of the Reverend John Gano, out of print since 1806.
Mercer University Press launched a series called Baptists in 2001. Walter B. Shurden will server as General Editor. The first two volumes include Roger Williams’s classic, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, with a critical introduction by Edwin Gaustad and a republication of Richard Furman: Life and Legacy by James A. Rogers.
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