Produced by The Center for Baptist
Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists
Yesterday and Today
Bruce T. Gourley,
Baptist Studies Bulletin
Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies
In Response to . . . :
Currently the Interim Director of the Center for Baptist
Studies, Bruce has been on the staff of the Center since 2004. He
previously served as a campus minister and professor of church history.
In addition, he is involved in a number of areas of moderate Baptist life
through the medium of the Internet.
Evangelical Wilderness Experience"
By Bruce T. Gourley
despise all reverences and all the objects of reverence which are outside the
pale of our own list of sacred things. And yet, with strange inconsistency, we
are shocked when other people despise and defile the things which are holy to
us." So declared Mark Twain at the very time that white Baptists in
the South finally succeeded in muscling their way into religious and cultural
dominance in the American South.
A little over a century
later, some Baptists in the South are loath to accept their steadily declining
influence. Long the standard-bearer
in the South, the Southern Baptist Convention reached its zenith of growth
related-to-population in the 1950s, and a numerical peak in baptisms in 1972. It's been downhill ever since. A fundamentalist takeover of the
denomination, ostensibly for the purpose of theological purification and
numerical revival merely sped up the decline. Marriage to the
evangelically conservative Religious
Right only added to the problems. Frank Page, current SBC
president, recently concluded that the decline of the SBC is in part because
of widespread perception of Southern Baptists as "mean-spirited,
hurtful and angry people." Furthermore,
"have not always presented a winsome Christian life that
would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a
conversation on the Gospel," lamented Page.
While the SBC president
places much of the blame on the shoulders of his own denomination, J. Gerald
Harris, editor of the press arm of the Georgia Baptist Convention (affiliated
with the SBC),
the tendencies lamented by Page. Agreeing with Page that
conservative Christians are portrayed by the media as intolerant, "narrow and
sectarian," Harris nonetheless revels in the negative labels, insisting that
"evangelical Christians" are the "good guys" in America, while all others are "bad
guys." Tolerance is evil and public schools are pagan, Harris insists,
claiming to speak for all "Bible-believing, Christ-loving and soul-winning
While Southern Baptist
leaders alternate between regret and defiance, conservative evangelicals in
general are having a larger-scale wilderness experience, their long-sought
secular political ambitions largely unrealized and now fading fast. The
Manifesto, recognizing serious problems among conservative evangelical
ranks, is a half-hearted apology that skewers liberalism and refutes the excesses of the Religious
Right without completely annulling the conservative evangelical marriage with
the Republican Party. At least one prominent SBC leader disagrees with a
softening of Religious Right rhetoric. Al Mohler, president of The Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary,
rejects the Manifesto acknowledgement that evangelical faith is merely one of many
valid expressions of Christianity and scoffs at the affirmation that other
faiths should have equal access to the "public square."*
The wilderness sojourn of
the Southern Baptist Convention and the conservative evangelical movement at large
did not have to happen. Baptists of the 17th and 18th centuries understood the importance of
diversity. Unafraid of pluralism, they insisted religious liberty applied
equally to persons of all faiths and no faith, and in turn they put their lives on
the line to secure the separation of church and state. Southern Baptist
leaders of recent decades have strayed far from the teachings of the long-ago
heroes of their own denomination. Marrying politics and religion in an
arrogant effort to secure the rights of evangelical Christians above the
rights of all others, they have boldly rejected their own faith heritage. And
in their rebellion, they have led the way into a dry and desolate landscape of
self-serving myths and self-glorifying rhetoric.
continued defiance and half-hearted apologies are not paths out of the
wilderness. As Jesus taught two millennia ago, a recognition of lostness
must precede renewal and rebirth.
* Editor's Note: For
further reading regarding the significance of the Evangelical Manifesto, read
Marci Hamilton, and
Joseph Conn. Also of interest is an
Baptist Press story.
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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 Charles
W. Deweese, Executive Director of the Baptist History & Heritage Society,
headquartered in Atlanta.
Amendment Issues: Why Care?"
By Charles W. Deweese
The First Amendment
to the Constitution of the United States begins: “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 . . . .”
The Baptist History and
Heritage Society believes that this Amendment possesses extreme
importance for Baptists (and everyone else) in the United States.
Therefore, the Society will dedicate its May 22-24, 2008, annual
conference on the Atlanta campus of Mercer University to the
theme, “Baptists and First Amendment Issues.”
●Mercer University President Bill Underwood
will deliver the keynote address, “First Amendment Implications
for Baptist Identity.”
●Doug Weaver, of Baylor University, will
discuss “Baptists and the First Amendment: An Historical
●J. Brent Walker and Holly Hollman, of the
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, will, respectively,
speak at the Society’s Awards Luncheon and address “Religious
Freedom in the Courts: Recent Cases and a Look Ahead.”
●Suzii Paynter and Stephen Reeves, of the
Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, will jointly present “The
Texas Bible-in-Public-Schools Bill: Reflecting National Political
Controversy and the Emerging Landscape of Religion in Public
●Twelve other Baptist leaders from nine
states will offer break-out session papers on various aspects of
the program theme.
WHY DOES THIS MEETING MATTER?
First, although Baptists historically
preceded the First Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, they put
their lives on the line in the 1600s and 1700s advocating
church-state separation. Baptists’ historic defense of the
“establishment” and “free exercise” clauses of the Amendment and
of free speech and a free press represent some of their finest
contributions to human civilization.
to the Amendment poses constant threats to Baptist identity. Hard
knocks against church-state separation (in the heart of the
Southern Baptist Convention), the erosion of freedom of the press
(in most Baptist state newspapers), authoritarian oppression of
the right to dissent (at the core of too much Baptist church
life)—these and other factors contribute to a deterioration of key
components of Baptist thought—and sacrifice.
Quindlen, my favorite Newsweek writer, predicts (May 12,
2008, p. 64) that the next U.S. president will likely appoint
several justices to the Supreme Court. Typical results of the
court’s work are “the expansion of rights and liberties or their
diminution.” Since the court deals with various church-state
issues, whoever Baptists and other Americans elect as president in
2008 will have a big impact on future court decisions relating to
the First Amendment. So, learning as much as possible about the
Amendment’s history and significance during our Society’s annual
conference could help participants want to study more carefully
the church-state emphases of the candidates running for president.
conference will take place soon. Metro-Atlanta residents are
especially encouraged to register and participate. To secure more
details, e-mail Pam Durso at
firstname.lastname@example.org, call her at
770-457-5540, or check our website (www.baptisthistory.org).
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THE MERCER PREACHING
Co-sponsored by McAfee
School of Theology and
The Center for Baptist Studies
28-30 September 2008
The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
Featuring Dr. Greg Boyd
senior pastor of Woodland Hills
Church in St. Paul, Minn., and noted author
And Dr. Joel Gregory
professor of preaching at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University
and distinguished preacher
To register or for more information, contact
Massey by email
or phone her at 478.301.2943
From the Pulpit: The Center for Baptist Studies recognizes the
critical role of the pastor in the life of the local congregation. Each
September, the Center co-sponsors the annual Mercer Preaching Consultation
(see box above). For the first half of this year, we present a
special series of articles highlighting the pulpit. Each month a
different pastor will provide insight From the Pulpit. This month's
contributor is John Finley, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Savannah,
Georgia, an historic Baptist congregation.
From an Historic Pulpit"
By John Finley
My friend and
mentor Walter B. Shurden enjoys quoting a line from William
Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun which says: “The past is never
dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” While Faulkner may have
intended those words as a description of life in the American
South, they speak of historic churches as well. At 207-year-old
First Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia, I continue to glean
insights from our long and rich history.
One of the
lessons I have learned has to do with congregational
personality. A church is a unique creation, informed by its
particular cultural context as well as the many persons who have
been a part of its life. In our case, we are heavily influenced
by the port city of Savannah, where the colony of Georgia was
founded in 1733, and the longstanding presence of a wide range of
Christian denominations and other religions. While a few of my
pastoral predecessors may have been ne’er-do-wells, many of their
names read like a Baptist Who’s Who – Henry Holcombe,
William Bullein Johnson, Sylvanus Landrum, John E. White, W. L.
Pickard, Norman W. Cox – and each left a distinctive mark on the
congregation. Perhaps just as importantly, every church is shaped
by the long list of members born, baptized, married, and ordained
there, who worked and taught and gave and sacrificed for the
church of Jesus Christ. Their service made our congregation what
it is today, and on their shoulders, we are privileged to stand.
the lessons I have learned has to do with the importance of
perspective. While longevity alone is never a guarantor
of orthodox theology, proper Christian ethics, or the best way of
relating to other persons, I am convinced that there are certain
lessons that congregations only learn over time. After suffering
through twelve years of separation following an 1847 church split,
First Baptist Church has never again experienced a serious
division. Having been wrong on the issue of slavery in the 1860s,
our church did a much better job of dealing with the struggle for
civil rights in the 1960s. Serving an established congregation is
like viewing the universe through the lens of a powerful telescope
and observing events that took place long ago, the light of which
is only now reaching one’s eyes. What can be learned is a better
understanding of what matters most to God and the Kingdom, and
one’s proper relationship to both.
Yet another lesson I have
learned has to do with the value of perseverance. Our
congregation has survived one of the worst fires to strike any
community in North America, the capture of Savannah by General
William T. Sherman at the end of the Civil War, an 1876 yellow
fever outbreak that killed upwards of 5 percent of the city’s
population in a single summer, an 1886 earthquake, a series of
four hurricanes in the 1890s (one of which took the roof off the
sanctuary), two World Wars and too many other military conflicts,
several economic recessions, numerous floods, and both the
beginning and the ending of the Southern Baptist Convention as we
knew it. Still, the church stands. One might smile and say that
it apparently takes a lot to kill a Baptist church. Better
phrased, we have learned that God watches over the fortunes of a
congregation and that God’s people have a way of persevering over
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Baptists and Presidential Elections:
This series focuses on historical
Baptist responses and interactions during previous United States presidential
election years. This month's contributor is Doug Weaver. Doug is Director of
Undergraduate Studies of Baylor University's Department of Religion.
Ronald Reagan: Baptists and the Religious Right"
By Doug Weaver
year 1976 was the “year of the evangelical” and the election of the “born
again” Southern Baptist, Democrat Jimmy Carter, the irony of history was close
by. The year 1980 was the year that the Religious Right wed itself to the
Republican Party. Baptists helped lead the charge. In fact, conservative
politics mirrored the “controversy” that had just begun to rage in the
Southern Baptist Convention.
papers ran articles describing the religious faith of the major presidential
candidates, incumbent President Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan, former
governor of California. Readers already knew about Carter’s long involvement
in Southern Baptist life. The Carters attended First Baptist Church,
Washington, D.C., and he was a part-time substitute Sunday School teacher. He
had a well-worn copy of the King James Version of the Bible on his desk in the
White House. Readers were also told that Reagan attended Bel Air Presbyterian
Church but while the Reagans “come a lot” “they have never been involved in
the life of the church.”
theme addressed in Baptist papers during the 1980 campaign was the issue of
partisan politics and the creation of religious voting blocs through new
Religious Right organizations like the Moral Majority. Ronald Reagan was their
candidate to turn the nation back to God. The Religious Right largely ignored
Reagan’s divorce and remarriage, long issues for evangelicals. His support
for the growing “pro-life” movement was an answer to their prayers.
Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority and well-known Independent Baptist, was
frequently in the news. In August 1980, he said that he asked President
Carter, “Sir, why do you have practicing homosexuals on your senior staff at
the White House?” When criticized for having fabricated the story, Falwell
said that he did not intend a verbatim report of his conversation with Carter,
but the story accurately reflected Carter’s position on gay rights. Former
SBC convention president Jimmy Allen retorted that anecdotes that don’t tell
the truth should not be used. A White House official responded that Carter did
not affirm a gay lifestyle.
1980, Chauncey Daley of the Western Recorder wrote an editorial
entitled “Moral Majority is More Political Than Moral.” Daley warned that
Baptists must beware of letting Falwell tell them how to vote: “the Baptist
principle of (the) priesthood of every believer holds that every Christian has
the same access to the Holy Spirit for guidance as does Jerry Falwell.” Daley
was especially critical of Falwell’s call for pastors to endorse a
presidential candidate (Reagan) from their pulpits because “his (the pastor)
calling is far too high to ever be a mere politician. He is a prophet, not a
ward heeler; a shepherd, not a herder of votes….He should be pastor of all his
flock, not one part of it which he becomes when he endorses a particular
of the burgeoning Religious Right in Republican politics and in Baptist life
was seen at a National Affairs Briefing that drew 10,000 people, including
about 2,000 ministers (Dallas; August 1980). It was sponsored by The
Roundtable, whose officers included Ed McAteer, conservative political
lobbyist and member of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, and fiery evangelist,
James Robison. Ronald Reagan was the key note speaker. He told the supportive
crowd that he was a “born again” Christian. “I know this group can’t endorse
me, but I want you to know that I endorse you and what you are doing.” The
crowd roared. Numerous Baptist leaders also spoke, including SBC president
Bailey Smith and past presidents Adrian Rogers and W. A. Criswell as well as
Baptist TV evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
repeatedly warned America about its current political and spiritual crisis.
Adrian Rogers announced, “America needs to be born again or she will join the
graveyard of nations.” W. A. Criswell hailed the organizers for conducting the
briefing and said it was “dedicated to delivering the nation from the judgment
of God.” Bailey Smith related a story about a member of a gay political
caucus raising questions about Robison, known for volatile rhetoric. Smith
said, “We are in deep trouble in America when we interview a pervert about a
preacher.” James Robison told the gathering there must be redemption from
“government-backed sin.” And, he said the Religious Right was here to stay:
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about all of the radicals and the perverts and
the liberals and the leftists and the Communists coming out of the closet.
It’s time for God’s people to come out of the closet.”
again tried to counter the Religious Right. Marse Grant wrote an editorial
entitled, “Christian Party? There’s Not One in U.S.; They’re Both Political”
(September 13, 1980). Jimmy Allen agreed that a partisan religious party bloc
was dangerous. It had historically resulted in observers turning against the
church because they rejected the political views of the religious leader. In
October 1980, Allen wrote that the bloc vote in the name of religion ”damages
the churches by creating a political test for religious fellowship” and
“damages the state by producing a religious test for public office.”
defeated Carter (and Independent John Anderson) for the presidency of the
United States. The Carter presidency had been criticized on many fronts: the
ongoing Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979
had complicated the political scene. But, the rise of the Religious Right had
helped turn the tide toward Reagan.
Not all of
the Baptists who were Democrat had been happy with Carter’s presidency. And,
not all Baptists were Republicans. But during the 1980s (and beyond) to be a
Southern Baptist conservative was to be part and parcel of the Religious
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Observations From the Intersections of Individualism and Ecclesiology:
Charles E. Poole recently returned to
the pulpit of Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, following four
years of street ministry with LifeShare Community Ministries in Jackson.
"Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, has ministered to
both the poor and the privileged for over a quarter century. In addition to
Northminster, he has served First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia, and First Baptist
Church, Washington, DC.
"At a Busy Baptist Corner:
Perceptions of Authority and Responsibility"
By Charles E. Poole
my four years as an inner-city minister, I spoke at a few of the annual
pastors’ schools which are hosted by some of the CBF partnering seminaries and
divinity schools. In the course of those gatherings, I had many conversations
with many Baptist pastors. As you would imagine, some seemed glad to be
serving churches, while others were weary, depleted, and longing for some way
to stay in the ministry without having to pastor a church.
While I’m sure
there are as many reasons for that pastoral fatigue as there are pastors, I
have a theory about one of those reasons. It is a reason that rises from the
corner where individualism intersects ecclesiology, and it is this: To
serve as the pastor of a Baptist church is to often be responsible for things
over which you do not have authority. Because we Baptists place authority
for congregational decisions in the hands of the majority of the individuals
in the church (the intersection of individualism and ecclesiology), the
pastor does not have authority over what the church does, but she or he
is often assumed to be responsible for how the church does.
That is certainly
not the reason for the pervasive weariness among Baptist pastors, but
it is likely a reason. It isn’t unique to Baptist pastors, but it is a
part of life for any minister who serves at the busy Baptist corner where
Baptist individualism plus Baptist ecclesiology equal our deeply Baptist
principles of congregational governance and the lay-led church.
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Baptist Heritage Series: The
First Baptist Church in America:
As Baptists prepare to celebrate 400
years in 2009, this
series highlights America's First Baptist Church. Stephen
Martorella, Minister of Music of America's First Baptist
Church, is the author of this month's article.
"The Prayer of Song"
By Stephen Martorella
“Music is love in
search of a word.” So declared the French writer Colette, while
Plato said that music finds its way into the secret places of the
soul. The First Baptist Church in America was one of the first
significant voices in the artistic history of Providence, Rhode
Island, and today stands as a beacon for those who would fill their
souls with the sweet singing of praises to God. The psalmist says,
“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Our church strives to
make worship beautiful in song and praise and prayer.
To speak to future
hope is to acknowledge the gifts we have received from our past
musical heritage and to present them as today’s living music, the
“new song” of life. Our congregation values the songs both new and
old from many nations and peoples. What unites our singing is the
purpose of praise to which all these voices are raised.
Music too is a
reflection of the human condition. We acknowledge both the pain and
the joy that is a part of the world in which we live, and we present our
musical offerings as we present our lives to the Creator and Author
of life, even as we sing of praise and wonderment for the gifts we
have been given.
To live this
philosophy in the world of the arts is to provide music that is
genuine and authentic in its presentation, that seeks both
historical integrity and poetic aesthetic in representing the whole
range of human emotion offered up as the prayer of song. While music
can both educate and entertain, it is also a vehicle for corporate
praise and prayer, as a people broadly diverse sing in unity and
harmony, one with another.
With such a rich
and diverse tradition of the arts, our church reaches deep into many
faith traditions while preserving and supporting those that are in
particular both American and Baptist, as appropriate to our place in
the conference of American Baptist Churches. Our singing is global.
It is historic. It is also new, contemporary, and vibrant. We are
blessed with a treasure of musical instruments and the talent of so
many gifted people who give of their time and talent to the tapestry
of musical life in the church.
telling are those works of musical art that were written
specifically for worship at our church by those seeking to fulfill
the Bible command to “sing a new song unto the Lord” and to proclaim
His name with gladness. These are new creations of a living heritage
that points ahead to tomorrow’s church. Historically informed, alive
in the present, pointing to the future – this is the song of The
First Baptist Church in America for the 21st century. And
if the human soul is so moved by the truth of beauty so as to be
both ennobled and enabled in proclaiming love, then we should say,
“mission accomplished,” but that we know that the mission is never
fully accomplished. As long as we have life and breath, the journey
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Dates to Note
May 22-24, 2008, Baptist History & Heritage
Society Annual Meeting, Mercer's Atlanta campus. The theme is "Baptists
and First Amendment Issues." Visit
the BH&HS website for more
June 19-20, 2008, Annual Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship General Assembly, Memphis, Tennessee, Cook Convention Center.
July 16-19, 2008, British Baptist
Historical Society Centenary Conference, International Baptist Theological
Seminary, Prague. Theme: Baptists and the World: Renewing the Vision.
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Bill Leonard. If you have a proposal for a short paper,
email Dr. Ian Randall at Randall@ibts.cz
by March 1, 2008. Click here for more
information and registration information.
July 26-29, 2008, The Baptist International
Conference on Theological Education (BICTE), Prague, Czech Republic. Visit
the event website for more
September 28-30, 2008, Mercer Preaching
Consultation 2008, King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, St. Simons Island,
Georgia. Co-sponsored by McAfee School of Theology and the Center for
Baptist Studies. Featured speakers include Dr. Greg Boyd and Dr. Joel
Gregory. See advertisement above for more information.
If you know of a Baptist event that needs to be added to
this list, please
let us know. For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the
Online Baptist Community Calendar.
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