Friday, September 14, 2007

Baptist Polity

Hey, look, everyone, Kelly's back and he's pimpin' the Baptists. I'm completely suprised at this development. Really, I am... Okay, all kidding aside, Kelly brings up a worthwhile point that I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge. Not all of those on the religious end of the spectrum want a church-state combination. The Baptists were, in fact, created around the ideal that people should be free to worship as they choose. To borrow Kelly's quote from John Leland (because I'm lazy), "Every person must give an account to God, and therefore should be free to serve God in a way which best reconciles to personal conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, it should control them in religious matters; otherwise, government should let all persons be free." Baptists, however, have slipped a bit from the ideals espoused by those who started the movement. Jerry Falwell was a Baptist minister who created the Moral Majority with the goal of taking political control of America for the conservative Christians. Pat Robertson was some form of Baptist before getting involved in politics, then starting his own media empire and calling for a Christian nation that teaches Intelligent Design in public schools. There's also the recent story of Wiley Drake, a Baptist minister and Vice President (or former VP, I'm not sure) of the Southern Baptist Convention from California who prayed for the death of his enemies. The reason, as put forth in this CBS News story, is a little loopy. Drake endorsed Mike Huckabee's Presidential bid on a church-run radio show and in a statement put out on his church's letterhead. An organization called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State rightly pointed out that this is a violation of any number of IRS rules, as a tax-exempt religious organization is not allowed to make political endorsements for what I'd like to think are obvious reasons. Wiley then exhorted his followers to pray God to strike down the leaters of AUSCS. I believe that Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Wiley Drake serve to illustrate a point. (And don't worry, Kelly, it's not, "Baptists are horrible and must be destroyed," so you can call off your dogs. Assuming you have dogs.) Specifically, it serves to illustrate the Arthur Miller point that I've been unrepentantly tossing out during this discussion, that theocracy is something that has to be resisted generationally and can't simply be defeated once. A quick Google search of Wiley Drake brought me to Wade Burleson's blog, which I knew of already through Kelly, and this post against Wiley Drake's position as VP written before the story about praying for death came out. Burleson is a Southern Baptist and, from what I understand, fairly influential within that community. On the after side of the before/after picture we have Fred Clark, aka the Slacktivist, responding directly to Drake's prayer habits. Clark, it should be noted, is also a Baptist, although not a Southern Baptist from what I can gather. Wade Burleson and Fred Clark, it should be noted, are many years younger than Falwell, Roberston or Drake. Resistance from one generation to the other, indeed... If you look back to the founding of this country, you will see, as Kelly pointed out, a Baptist church that was strongly against a church-state combination. It took a while for a blatantly theocratic movement to gain traction in the United States, but it did it a big way with Falwell's generation, led in large part by Baptists. Amid the din of the general outcry against a theocratic state and the so-called "Moral Majority," it's possible to find eloquent voices raised against a politicized church coming from within the ranks of the Baptist churches. It's gratifying to see. (P.S. Since I am kind of doing this in the name of history, there's one thing I need to point out. Kelly said, "Baptists even opposed the Constitution and Madison's re-election until talks prompted Madison to include a positive statement on religious liberty beyond the Test Clause in Article 4. This resulted in the First Amendment." This is a bit confusing and possibly misleading. Although I have no doubt the Baptists supported a Bill of Rights, it was ratified in 1791. Madison did not become President until 1809. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the delegates of several states had something to say about the Bill of Rights, too... Oh, as a side note, the Bill of Rights was based, among other things, on the earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights, which had as it's seventeenth and final clause: "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other." I'm glad they didn't just copy that for the First Amendment. Imagine what a would-be theocrat would do with it...)

1 comment:

Kelly Reed said...

Don't worry Brian, I only have one dog and she's a wimp without backup! I'm enjoying the discussion actually--I don't get the chance that often--I'm curious to see what other say!

And I definitely agree that the battle has to be fought repeatedly. As with most things, the pendulum swings often by generation--the following generation or so responding to the excesses of the previous (whichever direction it comes from).

As to the election, sorry, not specific enough: Baptists opposed Madison's election to the Constitutional Convention or Legislature, not as President (I can't remember which at the moment). The rub was that Madison believed the Constitution, during discussion of ratification, already secured freedom of religion in its current form--disagreeing with Jefferson's call for a Bill of Rights. The Baptist community agreed with Jefferson that a Bill of Rights was needed and specifically a positive/proactive statement of Religious Liberty. They then used their influence of numbers to threaten their own candidate to run against Madison (which would have split the vote enough to push the election to another candidate if I remember correctly). This gave them access to Madison and during talks (with Leland, I believe) they convinced him to support/lobby for a positive declaration of religious freedom.

How would those tactics be interpreted in today's political climate? Their religious convictions were used to influence a political outcome--which we benefit from so it must be OK.

Truly those kinds of things happen all the time as should in the free marketplace of ideas: Based upon true convictions (as opposed to popularity or convenience) proclaim your positions convincingly enough so they become the convictions of others, then together influence the political climate to reflect those convictions.

That's generally the system we live in--it's not always "may the best ideas win"--but "may the most widely accepted/believed ideas win". That is the freedom and the danger of the system we live in. It is one that can be manipulated or taken advantage of from numerous directions--including religious.

Wow, don't even get me started on the Wiley Drake prayer fiasco. What's funny is that many groups like Baptists opposed gov't registration of congregations, and yet we quickly embraced the concept of Tax Exemption--which accomplished the same thing as registration only using a nice, juicy carrot. Without tax exemption--Wiley could endorse whomever, whenever. And some within AU are opposed to a church getting tax exemption--but that would open up a flood gate of religious endorsements!

Wow, that should be all for now!