"A Monthly Emagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today"
December 2005                Vol. 4  No. 12

Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University

Walter B. Shurden, Executive Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

The Center for Baptist Studies wishes all our subscribers
A Blessed Advent, A Merry Christmas, and A Happy New Year.

Table of Contents



Special Announcement : The Center for Baptist Studies Unveils New Website

I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "A Jimmy Carter Kind of Baptist"

The Baptist Soapbox: Guy Sayles

         "Fundamentalism Advancing in North Carolina"

Bulletin Special: Brent Walker

         "Is There a War on Christmas?"
Dispatches From the Frontlines of America's Culture War: Bruce Prescott

         "Jerry Falwell's 'Friend or Foe' Christmas Campaign"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole

         "Don't be Paralyzed by Christmas"
Baptist Women Ministers You Should Know: Pamela Durso

         "Laura Johnson"
Writing Local Church History: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Online Helps for Writing Local Church History"

BSB Book Review: Religious Pluralism in America:  The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal by William R. Hutchison

         Reviewed  by William E. Hull
Dates to Note

Note:  To print the BSB, set your printer's left and right margins to .4 inches or less.


To change / add / delete your email for the Baptist Studies Bulletin, please click here.

Netscape users: If you need to increase the font size on your screen, click "view" then "increase font."

Note:  You are free to duplicate and circulate the articles in BSB or to use quotations
from our articles.  We would, however, appreciate a good word about where
you found your material. It makes us look good!  Thanks.


Special Announcement:  The Center for Baptist Studies Unveils New Website

            Following months of design work and solicitation of feedback from a variety of persons, The Center for Baptist Studies formally announces its new website with this publication of the Baptist Studies Bulletin. 
            The new URL for TCBS is:  The site itself has been completely redesigned to make it more attractive and user-friendly.  All information from the old site has been retained within the new site, and new material has been added.  Please bookmark the new URL in your web browser.  If you have a website which links to TCBS, we request that you update the link to the URL above.
Table Of Contents

I Believe

"A Jimmy Carter Kind of Baptist"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .

            that you would act magnanimously by running to the book store in these last days before Christmas 2005, buying President Jimmy Carters’ book, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, wrapping it bright red paper, and placing it under the Christmas tree for your favorite Baptist loved one. Like Daniel Vestal, national Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, I am unapologetically a “Jimmy Carter kind of Baptist.”
            Jimmy Carter saves the Baptist name and restores the best of the Baptist spirit. In a world where “Baptist” has been muddied by a narrowness of mind, a sectarian spirit, and some people who are just to the right of Attila the Hun, Baptists can find needed relief in President Carter’s openness of mind, his ecumenical spirit, and his progressive conservatism.
            His new book consists of a series of brief essays, highly readable, that reflect Mr. Carter’s concern for the moral crisis of our nation. It is not a book about Baptists, but it is a book in which most of the Baptist readers of this Bulletin will take genuine pride. Fundamentalists are not the only ones who believe that “extensive and profound” transformations “are now taking place in our nation’s basic moral values, public discourse, and political philosophy” (Carter’s opening sentence).
            Why the transformations? President Carter believes that “the most important factor is that fundamentalists have become increasingly influential in both religion and government, and have managed to change the nuances and subtleties of historic debate into black-and-white rigidities and the personal derogation of those who dare to disagree” (3).
            For readers of this Bulletin, Carter says little that is new about religious fundamentalism. Many will be staggered, however, by what he says in chapters ten and eleven about how political fundamentalism is undercutting America’s traditional moral values. This is the ex-president’s most important book thus far. Before you wrap it up and put it under the tree for your loved one, do yourself a favor. Read it.

Table Of Contents

Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak 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). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Guy Sayles, pastor of First Baptist Church, Asheville, North Carolina.

"Fundamentalism Advancing in North Carolina"
Guy Sayles

            Throughout the 1990s, it appeared that fundamentalist and moderate Baptists in North Carolina might find ways to live together in the same house.  The Baptist State Convention (BSC) developed multiple giving plans, one of which, “Plan C,” allowed churches to make contributions to both the BSC and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), without also supporting the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Irenic leaders advocated for “shared leadership” of the BSC, even though a proposal to make it an official policy was defeated in 1999.  There was, if not an actual peace, at least a cease fire in the Tar Heel state.
            The cease fire lasted until fundamentalists won enough elections—now nine in a row—to make their sharing of leadership unnecessary.  Their power has grown, their rhetoric has become more heated, and their openness to cooperation with moderates has eroded.
            For instance, this year’s BSC Nominating Committee excluded from consideration anyone who is a member of a church supportive of the Alliance of Baptists, and the committee made a determined effort to place more conservatives on the board of the Biblical Recorder.  Despite the fact that, at this year’s annual meeting of the BSC, messengers  approved a two-year budget which retains multiple giving plans, it is clear that support is growing for a single plan which would be hardwired exclusively to the SBC.  Messengers also decided that any contributions made to the CBF through one of the alternative giving plans shall no longer be considered “Cooperative Program” gifts.  In addition, Bill Sanderson, president of Conservative Carolina Baptists, offered a motion, which was overwhelmingly approved, that directs the BSC Board of Directors to find ways to “develop and implement” policies which will exclude from the BSC any church deemed to be too welcoming of homosexuals, a motion which echoed changes made to the Constitution of the SBC in 1993.
            Being exclusively “Southern Baptist” is, without question, the fundamentalists’ overarching goal.  Explaining the recommendation that gifts to the CBF no longer be considered Cooperative Program contributions, BSC Budget Committee chair Leroy Burke said: “Because we are Southern Baptists . . . We have to decide if we’re Southern Baptist or CBF.” (Tony Cartledge,, 10.24.05).
            Fundamentalists apparently can’t imagine that the BSC could have an identity apart from the SBC’s.  For them, the state convention is a regional distribution center for the SBC’s theology and programs and a funding source for its missions boards and seminaries.  Unalloyed loyalty to the SBC is their litmus test for the BSC’s legitimacy and their singular criterion for a congregation’s participation in the BSC.
            With fundamentalists anxious to show us the door, moderates won’t stay in the house much longer.  Most of us are already out on the porch, talking about what is next.  For many, it will mean stepped-up involvement in the CBF of NC.  For some, it will mean the formation of ad hoc networks for shared ministry.  For almost all, it will mean finding ways to continue our support of the colleges and universities, benevolent institutions, and disaster relief ministries which were the glue that bound us to the BSC. 
            Inevitably, fundamentalists will eliminate the BSC’s multiple giving plans.  When they do, local churches comprised of both SBC-loyalists and moderates will lose the common ground that the BSC had provided.  It will be harder for them to ignore potentially divisive issues, especially the issue of congregational identity.   In fact, an enduring lesson of the conflicts among Southern Baptists is that “identity work” is local work.  “Denominations” can’t legitimately confer identity on a church, but they can certainly co-opt it.  Perhaps the reclamation of a church’s responsibility for its own identity is an unexpected gift from “the controversy.”

Table Of Contents

THE FIRST AMENDMENT to the United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Bulletin Special: This month we reprint an important article from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, authored by BJC Executive Director J. Brent Walker.

Respecting Religious Diversity During the Holiday Season
By J. Brent Walker

           Are "Christian haters" and "professional atheists" engaged in an all-out war on Christmas, as FOX News' anchor John Gibson claims? I don't think so—unless one is prepared to say that President Bush and the First Lady are leading the effort. This year's White House greeting card extends "best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness." No mention of "Merry Christmas" from the First Family.
           About a dozen holy days are observed by various religious groups between Thanksgiving and New Year's. For decades we have been confronted by that "December dilemma" of how to acknowledge and celebrate winter religious holidays, usually in the context of the schools, in a way that is constitutional and culturally sensitive. People of good faith, including the Baptist Joint Committee, have worked long and hard to develop guidelines that comply with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the First Amendment's religion clauses, and respect the amazing religious diversity in this country.
          There is widespread agreement that:

  1. Holiday concerts in the public schools can and should include religious music along with the secular, as long as the sacred does not dominate.
  2. Religious dramatic productions can be presented in the public schools as long as they do not involve worship and are part of an effort to use religious holidays as an occasion to teach about religion.
  3. Free standing crèches, as thoroughly religious Christian symbols, should not be sponsored by government, but Christmas trees and menorahs are sufficiently secular to allow their display without a constitutional problem.

          Having settled many of the legal issues, some are now bent on fighting battles in a culture war against an enemy that does not exist. Some on the religious and media right lament political correctness run amok by calling a Christmas tree a "holiday tree" and extending "seasons greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas." In fact, they have threatened lawsuits to rectify such indiscretions and, in the private sector, encouraged a boycott of merchants that fail to use the right words.
          What irony and how sad—to be picking a fight over what to call a season that for many celebrates the coming of the Prince of Peace. We would all do well to take a deep breath and exercise some common sense as we think and talk about this season.
          Christmas is Christmas and a tree is a tree. There's nothing wrong with calling it what it is: a Christmas tree. And it is perfectly appropriate to extend a specific holiday greeting such as my Jewish friends do when they wish me a "Merry Christmas," and I return a "Happy Hanukkah."
          But often it's quite appropriate to wish another "happy holidays" or "season's greetings." It's just a matter of good manners and common courtesy. If I am talking to a person whose religious affiliation I do not know, I will employ the more general greeting. And the same goes for merchants who have advertised goods to Americans of many religious traditions who may or may not celebrate Christmas.
          None of this disparages Christmas one iota or diminishes my enjoyment of it in the least.
          Then why are these culture warriors bound to start a brouhaha in the midst of the love, joy, peace and hope of Advent?
          It's part of a concerted effort to affirm the mythical "Christian nation" status of the United States. (By the way, the Puritans and many other religious people well into the 19th century refused to celebrate Christmas because they thought it was unchristian and not supported by Scripture). So, in the words of the title of the Beatles song, "I, Me, Mine," it's all about ME and the brash assertion of MY supposed right to impose my religion on others. Moreover, and I hope it is not a too jaded thought, these bombastic diatribes about a war on Christmas attract publicity and make for good fund raising. (Truth be known, the Christmas spirit is threatened more by runaway commercialism—beginning just after Halloween!?—than by any supposed cultural hostility to a holiday that more than 90 percent of our citizens celebrate.)
          No, we do not need government promoting our religious holidays to the exclusion of others. Nor do we need a corps of purity police trying to dissuade our efforts to respect the religious diversity that is the hallmark of this country.

          To all of our readers, then: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous Kwanzaa, Martyrdom Day of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Bodhi Day, Maunajiyaras Day, Beginning of Masa'il, Nisf Sha'ban and Yalda Night, Yule and Shinto Winter Solstice, and Ramadan! Or, happy holidays!

Table Of Contents

Culture Wars

Dispatches From the Frontlines of America's Culture War:  In recent years, the subject of faith and politics in America has consistently made headlines in secular newspapers as the Religious Right has sought to dismantle the separation between church and state.  Bruce Prescott is the Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and host of the Sunday morning show "Religious Talk" on KREF Radio 1400 AM.

"Jerry Falwell's 'Friend or Foe' Christmas Campaign"
By Bruce Prescott

           Christmas used to be associated with the “Prince of Peace.”   Jerry Falwell, Fox News, and a host of Religious Right organizations, however, have turned the season into an annual “pre-emptive” offensive in America’s culture war.
           Liberty Counsel, a legal group affiliated with Jerry Falwell, has been organizing and leading a “Friend or Foe” Christmas campaign since 2003.  Essentially, “friends” are public schools, government agencies, and private businesses that meet with the Christian Right’s approval by acknowledging “Christmas.”  “Foes,” on the other hand, are those who allegedly “discriminate” against Christians by using “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” on their signs, displays or in greetings to their customers.  In a recent letter to pastors, Falwell offered “free legal assistance by Liberty Counsel to individuals facing persecution for celebrating Christmas” at their public school, government office, or workplace.  Other than religious broadcasters, Fox News, particularly Bill O’Reilly’s reporting about an alleged “war on Christmas,” has been the primary media outlet for the dissemination of “Friend or Foe” campaign developments. 
           Most of the instances in which American Christians claim to be persecuted for their faith are really examples of their no longer being permitted to dominate the stage or take over the public square.  If everybody simply practiced the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” about 90% of these church/state skirmishes could be resolved.
           A good example of this is Mustang, Oklahoma.  Last year, the town was a front in the annual Christmas culture war.  Christians there threatened to sue the school district for discrimination when the principal removed an annual “live” nativity scene from a public elementary school’s Christmas play.  Christians alleged that they were being discriminated against because the play also mentioned Kwanzaa and displayed a Menorah while only the nativity scene was removed. “Political correctness” and a pervasive “secularism,” they said, were taking Christ out of Christmas.  The fact that the children sang "Silent Night" which repeats twice that "Christ, the Savior is born" and repeats twice "Jesus, Lord at his birth" was not enough to satisfy them.
           In reality, the people in Mustang complained because children were not required to stage a dramatic visual climax to a play that was designed to give dramatic emphasis to the Christian religion.  They wanted all the school children to be involved in acting-out and role-playing a nativity scene.  In effect, they wanted an agency of the government–a public school–to give token mention to minority faiths while elevating the majority faith.  They expected public school children from diverse religious backgrounds to participate in a devotional exercise in which people from other faiths pay homage to the lord of the majority faith.
           Threats of lawsuits were dropped when school officials and community leaders agreed to work together with Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center to create a religious liberty policy for the school district.  The preamble to the new policy, adopted on May 10, 2005 states,

         Public schools may neither instill nor inhibit religion. They must be places where religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect. Mustang Public Schools uphold the First Amendment by protecting the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths or no faith.
         The proper role of religion in the public school curriculum is academic and not devotional. Mustang Public Schools strives to advance the students’ knowledge and appreciation of the role that religion has played in all aspects of human history and development.

            Falwell’s culture warriors have done their best to put a positive spin on the outcome of last year’s skirmish in Mustang, Oklahoma.  The truth is, the school’s religious liberty policy and the community’s agreement to abide by it, constitute a victory for advocates favoring separation of church and state.

Table Of Contents


Bible and Poor

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.

"Don't be Paralyzed by Christmas"
By Charles E. Poole

               Christmas has traveled a long way. It’s quite a distance from Bethlehem to here, and an even longer journey from the incarnation of God in Jesus to the long lines at Best Buy.
               How we got from shepherds and angels to tinsel and bows is sort of beside the point. The fact is we are here, and, thus, we again face those annual “Christmas-specific” questions about how best to help persons in poverty: Is it wise of us to use money that could purchase groceries and diapers  to provide toys and bikes? Is it right for us to perpetuate the gift-giving culture that has consumed Christmas by providing gifts to persons in poverty as though those gifts are necessary for Christmas to be Christmas? And is it proper for Christians to show up with help at Christmas if we aren’t involved year-round in the lives of those who struggle?
I’m no expert at all of this or any of this. And I’m well aware there are many layers of complexity to those three Christmas questions. But, based on my two-and-a-half years of full-time service alongside families in need, I would say that the answers to those three Christmas questions are “Yes,” “Yes” and “Yes.” As for question one, families in poverty need for their children to be warm and well fed, but in addition to those basic necessities, families in poverty also long for their children to have moments of joy that we all believe are basic to life. To the extent that our equation of “joy” with gifts is a product of a commercial culture, there isn’t much we can do to change that for others until we change it for ourselves. Or, to put it another way, unless I’m ready to stop giving gifts to my own family in an effort to correct excessive commercialism, I can’t fail to provide gifts to families in need on the grounds that “Christmas is too commercial.” And as for question three, its much better to show up every December than it is to never shown up at all. Families in need would welcome helpful concern all year round, but help at Christmas only is much better than no help at all.
               Those answers are admittedly simple responses to obviously complex questions. They don’t address all the nuances or tackle all the issues. But the truth is, there are people all around us in need of comfort, relief and joy this December. We can paralyze ourselves with angst over the annual Christmas questions, or we can “suit up and show up” with whatever comfort, relief, and joy we can offer. Given the choice between carefully nuanced indecision and generously compassionate action, the path all of a sudden seems a little more clear.

Table Of Contents

Baptist Women Ministers


Baptist Women Ministers You Should Know:  The writer of this series, Pam Durso, is the Associate Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society.  According to Pam, "In recent years, I have been privileged to meet and befriend a good number of Baptist women ministers, and I have been inspired by their stories. They have faced opposition and criticism, and yet they have persevered in following God's calling. Their courage has given me hope and has also brought hope to Baptists who dream of a new day when churches will embrace all those whom God has called and gifted for ministry." She, along with her husband Keith, recently co-edited Courage and Hope: The Stories of Ten Baptist Women Ministers.

"Laura Johnson"
by Pamela Durso

            The ordination of Addie Davis by Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina on August 9, 1964, marked a new era for Baptists, and in the forty-one years since that event, thousands of women have been ordained by Baptist churches in the South, including Laura Johnson. Laura is the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Smithfield, North Carolina, a church which called her first as their interim associate pastor and then called her as their senior pastor.

            Laura’s journey to the pastorate was a difficult one. She grew up in Bristol, Tennessee, living in public housing and receiving free school meals throughout much of her childhood. Her childhood was characterized by rocky relationships with an abusive father and an abusive, alcoholic step-father. When candy-bearing messengers from Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church came to her door and invited her to church, Laura gladly boarded their bus.  She made her profession of faith at that church as a ten year old and continued to be a faithful participant in various churches throughout her teenage years.
            Because of her good grades and strong work ethic, Laura earned a college scholarship which was given by an anonymous Christian donor, and, in 1991, she graduated from King College. Over the next five years, her superb writing ability led to technical writing jobs, and numerous physical problems led to repeated surgeries. During this time, she married and moved to California. There she first felt a need to do something more meaningful, to somehow connect her vocation with her avocation. Sensing a call to ministry, she enrolled as a student at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Northern Extension.
            Although difficult to imagine, the most painful period in Laura’s life was yet to come. Early in 1997, she suffered a miscarriage, and in 2000, her marriage ended. These events left her deeply depressed, but her faith somehow sustained her. Now living in North Carolina, she became involved in a divorce recovery group, remarried, and later enrolled at Campbell University Divinity School. Despite all that had happened to her, she knew that she was called to finish school and to minister to others.

             While in divinity school, Laura did a summer Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) internship at Duke University Medical Center. She also underwent several other surgeries. All these events led her to make an important connection between her own suffering and her call to ministry. She now knew that she had been called to find the meaning in her own suffering and to help others also find meaning in suffering.

             Laura continued to seek opportunities to minister. She completed another unit of CPE in 2003 at a psychiatric hospital, where she worked with many patients who had traumatic histories similar to hers, and she did a CPE residency at  Alamance Regional Medical Center. In October 2003, after graduating from divinity school, Sharon Baptist Church interviewed Laura for the part-time interim associate pastor position that could lead to the full-time senior pastor position. It was a bold move for a small Baptist church in Johnston County, North Carolina, and in May 2004, the church took another bold step and called Laura as their pastor.

             While at Sharon Baptist Church, Laura has focused much attention on pastoral care and counseling. To continue her education in pastoral counseling, Laura recently completed a fourth unit of CPE, while pastoring full-time and commuting ninety minutes to the hospital. She has since been endorsed as a pastoral counselor by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

             Although Laura has undergone three more surgeries in the last two years, she holds tightly to her faith, believing that God is ever-present and knowing that she has been called, educated, and equipped to do the ministry to which she now devotes her life.

             In August 2004, Laura attended the fortieth anniversary celebration of the ordination of Addie Davis. There at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, Laura met Addie, another courageous woman who also had been faithful to her calling, and the young woman pastor and the elderly woman pastor briefly spoke of their journeys in ministry.

Note: Pictured above is Laura Johnson, on the left, and Addie Davis, on the right.  Addie Davis passed away December 3, 2005, following a brief illness.

Table Of Contents

Local Church History

Writing Local Church History:  The story of Baptists in America is the stories of local churches of believers.  In the 21st century, more resources than ever are available to help the local church, whether large or small, publish its unique history.  This series of articles spotlights the growing importance of local church history and offers perspective and insight from church historians working in the field of local church history.  This month's contributor is Bruce Gourley, Associate Director of The Center for Baptist Studies.

"Online Helps for Writing Local Church History"
By Bruce T. Gourley

            The Internet provides a variety of helpful resources in the writing of local church histories.  Following is a listing of recommended websites:
            Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.  The SBHLA maintains a collection of articles that would be of interest to individuals involved in writing local church history.  Currently 12 articles are available online.
            Kentucky Baptist Convention Archives.  Cheryl Doty, KBC Archivist, provides a brief introduction to "Writing Your Church History."  The document is in PDF Format.
          Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baptist Historical Collection.  The BHS has a number of resources available for local churches, covering all aspects of writing local church histories, including:

                        Good History Begins in Small Churches
                        Guide for Church History Writers
                        How to Prepare an Oral History
                        How to Start a Church Archives
                        How to Write a Church History
                        Procedure in Writing the History of a Baptist Church
                        Suggestions for a Church History Committee

          Resources from Other Denominations.  Following is a list of resources from other denominations from which helpful information may be gleaned in the writing of Baptist local church histories:

                        Guide to Preparing a Congregational History (Church of the Brethren)
                        Writing Your Church History (Church of the Nazarene)
                        Bibliographic Resources for Writing Local Church History (Wheaton College)
                        An Introduction to Writing Local Church History (Pentecostal)
                        Writing a Parish History (Uniting Church in Australia)
                        Guidelines for Writing Church History (Disciples of Christ)
                        Writing Church History (Presbyterian Church of America)
                        General Resource Helps for Writing Local Church Histories (UM Church)

            Thanks to these resources readily available on the Internet, the prospect of writing a Baptist local church history need not be a daunting task for any of the parties involved.

Table Of Contents

  The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends:

An Introduction to Baptist Principles:  This new booklet, by Bill J. Leonard, Dean and Professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University Divinity School, zeroes in on such principles as a regenerate church, biblical authority, liberty of conscience, congregational autonomy, associational fellowship, the priesthood of all believers, Baptist ministry and ordination, believer’s baptism by immersion, the Lord’s Supper, religious liberty and loyalty to the state, and missions. This booklet can be used in Sunday School classes, discipleship training classes, and new church member orientation.  To order, go to

Book Review BSB Book Review: 

BSB presents a review of Religious Pluralism in America:  The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal by William R. Hutchison (Yale University Press, 2003).

William E. Hull, Research Professor, Samford University, is our reviewer.   

            At the heart of the church/state dilemma is a tension nicely captured by the motto of the United States, e pluribus unum, “one out of many.”  We know of the founding ideals that contribute to our unity, several of them summarized in the Declaration of Independence, as well as of the demographic differences that contribute to our diversity, but where does religion fit in this dialectic?  Should it contribute more to the unum or to the pluribus that we are forever seeking to keep in balance? Early Baptists were strongly on the side of nonconformity to the point of risking persecution for their distinctives, but some latter-day Baptists are quick to form coalitions with almost anyone who will embrace their political ideology in an effort to create a monolithic voting block.
            The veteran Harvard Divinity School historian of American religion, William R. Hutchison, has given us an informal but informative survey of the many forms that “the perennial, indeed primordial, tension between the One and the Many” (p.10) has assumed throughout our nation’s life.  Two themes dominate this selective retelling of this “contentious history.”  The first is the enormous diversity of religion itself at every stage of the journey.  The colonial and revolutionary periods found Congregationalists in New England, Presbyterians and Quakers in the Mid-Atlantic states, with Anglicans in the south.  The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rise not only of the Baptists and the Methodists, but of such exotic groups as the Mormons, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and a host of experimental communities (e.g. Oneida).  A kind of generalized evangelicalism became ascendant in the latter half of the nineteenth century but it was steadily undermined by the massive immigration of ethnic groups as well as by the industrialization and urbanization that eroded its rural strongholds.  Protestantism was further weakened in the first half of the twentieth century by the rise of both liberalism and fundamentalism, by the secular threat of scientism, and by internal challenges from the Social Gospel and neo-orthodoxy to the point that it lost hegemony in the second half of the century.
            What Hutchison succeeds in showing is that, in our dynamic, expansive, and innovative culture, religion becomes so volatile that no doctrinal or denominational group has the stability to function as a unifying force in American life.  Therefore, as a second major theme, he insists that religion itself must learn to honor its own amazing diversity, and he does this by tracing how an ever more spacious practice of pluralism has emerged, not from some theoretical concept, but from the ceaseless interaction of American religion with its own historical context.  The first stage is toleration, the willingness of a dominant group to grant a deviant group the legal right to exist as outsiders.  The second stage is inclusion, the acceptance of the marginalized as insiders so long as they do not challenge the status quo.  The third stage is participation in which everyone shares responsibility for defining and implementing the social agenda.  Despite the recent rise of the Religious Right with its unitive ideology, Hutchison seems convinced that history is on the side of the slow and fitful progress that he has so ably traced.
            The book concludes with a strong defense of participatory pluralism based on the nature of democracy, of theism, and of post-ethnic voluntarism.  Baptists need to pay attention to this quintessential liberal if only because we were liberals, if not radicals, on the church/state issue when our identity was first defined and formed.  In response to those dismissive of his “advanced form of pluralism,” Hutchison well roots it in the Baptist idea:  “if I do concede your right to hold firmly to your beliefs, it makes no sense at all for me to deny or compromise that same right in relation to myself.  Pluralism in its leading contemporary meaning—support for group identity and the integrity of competing beliefs—emphatically does not imply ‘lack of all conviction’ . . .” (p. 235).

Table Of Contents

Dates to

Dates to Note

January 23-25, 2006, "Spiritual Formation Regional Retreat," Montreat Conference Center, North Carolina. The retreat is open to senior pastors, including pastors who serve as lone ministerial staff in smaller congregations. Other retreat locations are Texas, April 3-5; Kentucky, Sept. 11-13; and Atlanta at a date to be determined. Registration is available on a first-come basis. Click here to register online. For more information, contact Rick Bennett at (770) 220-1605 or

February 8-9, 2006, "Dr. Henry Mugabe's Visit to Macon." Sponsored by CBF/GA, The Christianity Department (Mercer), The Office of the Minister to the University (Mercer), The Center for Baptist Studies (Mercer), Vineville Baptist Church (Macon), and First Baptist Church of Christ of Macon. Dr. Mugabe is the president of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Zimbabwe. For additional information click here or contact Bruce T. Gourley at 478-301-5467 or email

February 8-11, 2006, Current Retreat, First Baptist Decatur, Atlanta. Current is a group of young Baptist ministers, leaders, and divinity students who seek to connect young Baptists through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. More information is available online.

May 4-5, 2006, "The University Campus: Tomorrow's Moderate Baptists."  First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA.  Sponsored by National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, and The Center for Baptist Studies.  For more information, email

July 12-15, 2006, International Conference on Baptist Studies IV, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada.  The Fourth International Conference on Baptist Studies will help to mark the centennial celebrations of the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches.  The theme is "Baptists and Mission," which includes home and foreign missions, evangelism, and social concern. For more information, contact Professor D. W. Bebbington, Department of History, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4TB, Scotland, United Kingdom (e-mail:

June 21-24, 2006, National Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA.  For more information, go to

For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

Table Of Contents




If you do not wish to receive BSB any longer, please Click Here to unsubscribe.