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Baptists — Why Now?
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There is a lot of misinformation winging around the ‘Tubes about the Baptists and I would like to clear a few things up because I know something about the situation.

I attended a Baptist university, Colgate in Hamilton, New York [yes, same as the toothpaste because when the Colgate family owned the Colgate Soap and Candle Company, they donated a lot of money]. I learned later that a distant relative was one of the founders of the institution in 1819 to train Baptist ministers.

In the middle of the 19th century the Baptists split into two factions on the issue of slavery and the Southern Baptists became a separate group. Each of the two main groups, the American and Southern Baptists have spun off smaller groups over various points of dogma.

Jimmy Carter and Mike Huckabee are both Southern Baptists, but I think we can agree that they don’t exactly have the same vision of what that means, and that is because Huckabee is a Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] Southern Baptist, while Carter is not.

The SBC leading lights include the Falwells, the Grahams, and such. They are fundamentalists in the extreme. They believe the Bible is inerrant and should be interpreted literally.

I don’t intend to demean the SBCs in any way [well, they are the jerks who insist on parking on my Mother’s lawn], but before you vote for Mike Huckabee ask yourself: would I have been happy living in Iran under Khomeini, in Afghanistan under Mullah Omar, in Spain under Isabella the Catholic? As long as you understand and approve of the reality that every decision will be judged based on SBC doctrine, there is no reason not to vote for Huckabee. I have no doubt that the man really does believe that the doctrine is correct.


1 Frederick { 12.16.07 at 9:10 am }

I think you’ve pushed me over the edge here on this issue. I’ll have to write up a long satirical post on why I’m supporting Huck for prez in 08′.

2 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 9:59 am }

and people were worried about the Pope controlling Kennedy.

I live among these people and have to deal with their arrogance in town meetings. Their “sanctuary” is basically a television studio, and is dwarfed by their tax-exempt school and day care center.

3 Michael { 12.16.07 at 10:39 am }

It’s very educational to read about the role of the Baptists in the English abolitionist movement (I recommend Christopher Leslie Brown’s Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism and Catherine Hall’s Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination 1830-1867). What “Baptist” meant to those people looks nothing like what it means to today’s SBCers–who are far more theologically conservative than the present pope: and that’s saying something.

4 Steve Bates { 12.16.07 at 11:15 am }

The SBC has had control of the Texas GOP’s platform committee for over a decade. The party platform they produce has been so extreme that occasionally Democrats hand out copies of it so voters will know who they’re dealing with here. Here is the 2006 platform preamble, with a link to a .pdf of the whole thing. The preamble concludes

“We pray God Bless Texas. God Bless the U.S.A. God bless us all!”

and I’m pretty sure the words “us all” are chosen advisedly, in the “us vs. them” sense. I’m afraid I don’t have the stomach to read the whole platform right now; it would spoil this beautiful Sunday morning.

Oh… and the Texas GOP claims copyright on its platform. Think about that for a moment.

5 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 12:40 pm }

The Baptists are an interesting group, making the claim that they are founded on the principles of John the Baptist and are superior and “older” because of that. They were leaders in the abolition movement and that was the major reason for the schism.

The branch of my family that contained the Baptists, was itself split between Baptists and Anglicans. The other major pre-Revolution branch was nominally Dutch Reform, but their version of “Reform” seems to consist of writing that where necessary on documents and avoiding all forms and practices in their lives. They built no churches and hired no ministers. Family Bibles are the sole indication of any religious affiliation.

The copyright-mania among Evangelicals is interesting, Steve. If you attend their services you don’t get a hymnal. The songs are projected on a screen with prominent copyright notices top and bottom. You have to wonder if they are paying performance fees to the holders, often the church’s own “music minister.”

Christian colleges include specific degrees for “music ministers,” I have a neighbor who is in such a program.

It will take a while before people realize that many of these “Christian schools” are no different than the madrassas teaching Wahabbism throughout the Muslim world. Fundamentalist are the same, their practices are the same, their fanaticism is the same, their claim of victimization is the same. The underlying justice of a particular belief system is ignored to enable followers to hate.

6 fallenmonk { 12.16.07 at 1:21 pm }

Bryan,This is from 2000
ATLANTA, Oct. 20 (UPI)–Former President Jimmy Carter, the son of a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, has disassociated himself from the nation’s largest Protestant denomination and criticized its “increasingly rigid creed.”

“I have finally decided that, after 65 years, I can no longer be associated with the Southern Baptist Convention,” the 76-year-old former president said in a letter mailed to 75,000 Baptists nationwide on Thursday by a group of moderate Texas Baptists.

Carter said the Southern Baptist Convention, which has almost 16 million members, has adopted policies “that violate the basic premises of my Christian faith,” including a denominational statement that prohibits women from being pastors and tells wives to be submissive to their husbands.

He said the “most disturbing” reason he and his wife decided to disassociate themselves from the Southern Baptist Convention was the elimination of language in June that identifies Jesus Christ as “the criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted.”

7 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 1:41 pm }

There are now two distinct groups within the Southern Baptists with the SBC on the right. Individual churches announce their affiliation or non-affiliation on their signage. The SBC is shrinking, and membership among Southern Baptist churches has been flat for a decade. The population is growing, but the number of Baptists isn’t.

This version of the periodic burst of evangelicalism that happens in the US every so often has peaked, and there will be a slow return to normalcy.

8 catnapping { 12.16.07 at 5:22 pm }

As a Native American (read: heathen, pagan), I’ve been leary of christianism pretty much all my life. My father was taken from his mother, and placed in an orphanage, because she wasn’t “christian” enough. (The woman went to Mass twice a week, but OMG, she also believed in spirits!)

Though I have run into racism…folks not liking the colour of my skin, the real problems I’ve faced were when found out I wasn’t Christian.

If men like Huckabee get their way…people like me will be rounded up and gassed. And after they’ve killed off all the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, etc…they’ll start going after other Christians…

9 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 5:50 pm }

This is just the KKK in another disguise. It is, was, and always will be about hate and fear of the “other,” i.e. anyone who isn’t exactly like them.

My paternal line goes back to the East end of the Baltic to the original Prussia, which was invaded after the first Crusade by German Christians called the Knights of the Teutonic Order. They were decidedly unhappy that that area of Europe wasn’t Christian.

The Germans were replaced by the Russians, who still control the area.

It’s hard to remember that Christianity is supposed to be about peace and love.

OT: I love your 12 days of Christmas illustrations, Catnapping.

10 hipparchia { 12.16.07 at 6:50 pm }

to some extent, i brought this one down on my own head, since i was the one who introduced the subject…

several of us [some baptists, some catholics, and me] discussing the relative merits of scientology and christianity. in the end it was decided that scientology couldn’t be a real religion, since they didn’t believe in jesus, but, and they all turned at looked at me as the pronouncement was uttered: at least they believed in something.

hehe. i am such a uniter. i’ll have to spring paganism on them someday and see what happens.

11 Badtux { 12.16.07 at 7:33 pm }

Bryan, I think you are being misled on the Southern Baptists v. the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention was formed back in slavery days as the central organizing body for missionary missions and preacher training of the Southern Baptist church. Southern Baptist churches were, and are, independent of the Southern Baptist Convention, the convention is almost literally that — a convention. By definition, if your church belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention it is a Southern Baptist Church. If your church doesn’t belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, it’s, well, it’s a Baptist church in the South.

Now, one thing that has happened to the Southern Baptist Convention is that the evangelical nutcases have taken it over. This has caused a large group of churches to withdraw from the Southern Baptist Convention either in effect or in name, with the Cooperative Bible Fellowship (CBF) getting most of the defectors, because the crazies have issued proclamations which are, frankly, un-Baptist. Historically, Baptists have believed that only the Word of God should guide one’s beliefs and actions, not man. The notion that any person should be able to tell another person what a proper Baptist *must* believe in order to be a Baptist was derided as Papistry, heresy, placing another human being into the place of God. The crazies who took over the SBC in the late 1990’s in 2000 issued a decree that said basically you had to believe the same things they believed in order to be Baptist. That is contradictory to practically the entire history of the Baptist faith, which for the vast majority of its history has held that no man may tell another what God thinks, because that is putting Man into the place of God. Thus the big beef with the Catholic church, which proclaims that priests and the Pope have a special line to God that ordinary people don’t have.

So now the SBC is acting like the Catholic Church, but the problem is that they don’t own anything except the large Southern Baptist universities such as Louisiana College and Baylor University, and many of those are run by the state conventions, not by the central SBC convention. Baptist churches are owned by their congregations, who govern them through a council of deacons that hires/fires the preacher (who is referred to as “Brother” to emphasize that he has no more line to God than any other person), not by the SBC or any other order. So probably 3/4ths of Baptist churches are simply ignoring the SBC. The problem is that the SBC took over the seminaries and are turning out all these fundy preachers. Which is why the CBF and others have opened up their own seminaries.

So anyhow, while the CBF et. al. still refer to themselves as “Southern Baptists” and still formally belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, the reality is that there’s now basically two SBC’s — the moderate one that gives only lip service to the SBC but funds its own parallel structure of seminaries, and the crazies who control the traditional SBC institutions. All of them call themselves “Southern Baptists”, presumably in order to retain influence as representatives of the largest Baptist denomination, and all are at least formally members of the SBC. But because Baptist churches are independent, many of them have joined the CBF or other organizations in order to insure themselves a supply of clergy who aren’t, well, crazies, and withdrawn their financial support for the traditional seminaries. One of these days the crazies running the SBC are going to bother to officially kick the moderates off the rollbooks, but thus far the SBC is refraining from doing that because the crazies get a kick from saying they represent 16,000,000 Southern Baptists, the largest number of Baptists of any branch of the Baptist Church — even though the actual number by now is probably well under half that, if you kick out the ones who are now only giving lip service to SBC membership.

So anyhow, all Southern Baptist Churches are members of the Southern Baptist Convention, and churches which are not members are just Baptist churches that are in the South, they’re not “Southern Baptist”. But the split within the SBC between the crazies and the moderates definitely does exist — just not in name, yet.

12 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 7:56 pm }

The problem is belief, isn’t it. I don’t believe in my chair, but the chair continues to exist ignoring my lack of belief. I don’t have to believe in hurricanes to have one flatten my house, they just exist.

Religion is a way of explaining what we don’t understand. It doesn’t have to justify itself, and there is no way of determining if it is true because it is “belief” not “knowledge.” The problems start when people start claiming they “know”, rather than accepting that they “believe,” and therefore can’t “know.”

I have always been amused by people who talk about “paganism.” It seemed to me that the so-called “pagans” were able to survive without outside help under conditions that killed the “Christians” who were making the comparison. I have often noted that knowing what is edible and where to find it is a good deal more helpful that understanding the difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation in an unfamiliar environment.

13 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 8:06 pm }

Locally, Badtux, the churches advertise their affiliation with the SBC or not, but they all call themselves Southern Baptist. They are definitely not the same as the Baptists that come out of Colgate University and the associated Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, the group with which I am most familiar, no matter which type of Southern Baptist church you attend down here [Chapel was a requirement at Colgate].

This may be a signing problem, but you see it driving around town. Actually the SBC church down the street just refers to itself as Baptist, not Southern Baptist, while the largest non-SBC church specifically calls itself Southern Baptist.

All I can say for certain is there are two major variants and the SBCs are the fundamentalist whackos [and their church suppers are fewer and not as good.]

14 ellroon { 12.16.07 at 8:37 pm }

Consubstantiation and transubstantiation? …. um….

Does this mean we’re given a test when we get to heaven?

I thought all I needed to know was that love was the best and most powerful thing in the world and that all humanity was worthy….

I’m going to hell, aren’t I?

15 Steve Bates { 12.16.07 at 9:20 pm }

“I thought all I needed to know was that love was the best and most powerful thing in the world and that all humanity was worthy…. / I’m going to hell, aren’t I?” – ellroon

Not if UU’s are right about the architecture of things. John Murray, an early Universalist and some say the founder of the denomination, had this to say on the subject:

You may possess only a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it in order to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of men and women. Give them not Hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.

Your mileage may vary, especially if you partake of some of the more severe Christian denominations. But Unitarian-Universalists (the denominations merged in the early 1960s; I hail from the Unitarian side, but it’s been a great match) continue to think along those lines. In honor of the season…

“No Hell,” sing we, both all and some…

<grin_duck_run />

16 Michael { 12.16.07 at 10:52 pm }

Copyright notices on songs are a good thing. That means they’re being used with permission and not pirated. If you come into my parish, you will find a hymnal (two, actually, not including the missalette, which also has music in it). Each of those hymnals has a copyright inside it, and each of the songs it contains not in the public domain also has an indication of who copyrighted it and when. The parish also has licenses from the major publishers of liturgical music that allows it to reproduce all or part of any of the songs those publishers hold copyrights on in the bulletin or other liturgical aids. If we were to project the lyrics and music, I’m sure we’d have to have the copyright notice on there somewhere.

17 andante { 12.16.07 at 10:58 pm }

As someone who was born & raised a Southern Baptist, I have to agree with Badtux. I can’t speak for the current SBC and it’s members, since I escaped as a teenager, but during my years there I was keenly aware that not all SB churches were equal – even in each other’s eyes. Each church was pretty independent, and varied fairly widely in their practices & emphasis. And each one strongly believed it was ‘the good guy’, while other SB churches were eyed with some suspicion.

Back in those days, each church and it’s organizations paid various dues to the SBC for their literature and to support their (many) missions. In those days, the SBC was pretty loose and didn’t try to enforce uniformity. Times have changed, that’s for certain.

In this immediate area, I can actually count the number of churches identifying themselves as “Southern Baptist” on the fingers of one hand. Other varieties of “Baptist” – large & small – are thick on the ground.

“Christian colleges include specific degrees for “music ministers” Quite true, and have done so for many, many years. But I’ve known a number of fine church music directors who have that degree, but are most definitely not any flavor of Baptist. It’s a sure-fire way to get a ‘gig’ at a large church which may even net you a salary over the poverty line. Right offhand, I can think of three Presbyterians, two Methodists, and an Episcopalian, all directors of music programs at large churches. They received their degrees from various church-run schools, but that’s as close as they’ve ever been to evangelicals or any Baptist church.

Those hymns projected on a screen – you can purchase a subscription that allows you usage of the copyrighted material (at least some) for a year or so. I get their ads all the time and they usually go straight into the circular file. Most of what they hawk is contemporary ‘praise’ songs, which IMHO are crap.

18 Bryan { 12.16.07 at 11:27 pm }

Michael, I didn’t make myself very clear. These are not traditional hymns, nor are they written in the forms of traditional hymns, but “praise songs” usually with the accompaniment of a rock band. In my forays into churches in the recent past, usually associated with weddings, the hymnals were like any book with a copyright page, which in most cases covered merely the specific collection as the hymns were old standards of most denominations, and not anything that would be recent enough to still be in copyright.

I guess it was the cultural shock of the projection, rather than the printed page, and the large and prominent placement of the copyright notice that struck me as weird, not that music would be copyrighted, or that the copyright owner would receive royalties, although I question the propriety of the minister of music using only his songs, and the lack of any traditional music – it didn’t feel like a church service.

I’m an outsider at this point. I once attended the Baptist Church down the street because the minister at the time gave a good sermon as he was an excellent speaker. When he retired and the new guy took over everything changed, including the congregation is a short span. Almost no one in town goes to the church any more and it has eaten the entire block it was on, taking it off the tax rolls, when it opened its “business wing.”

Religion has changed a great deal in my lifetime, and I don’t see the change as being for the better. It has gotten hard and competitive.

19 Badtux { 12.17.07 at 4:58 pm }

Here in California, a survey was done by the California Southern Baptist Convention of the Southern Baptist churches and found that less than 10% of them identify themselves as “Southern Baptist” in their literature and/or signage. It has been a perineal item on the yearly convention blotter to “Change name of CSBC to simply California Baptist Convention” to reflect the fact that while its members are officially Southern Baptist churches, they do not identify themselves as such. Thus far the crazies have kept that from happening.

Note that California has a fair number of Southern Baptists due to the Okie migration during the Great Depression. But even the Central Valley rednecks, who are as inbred as the North Florida crackers, are getting a bit uneasy with the crazies, thus the reason why the word “Southern” is getting dropped from many church’s names.

The point, the point… a church’s name has nothing to do with whether it belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention or not. Indeed, a church can even have the words “Southern Baptist” in its name, like, say, “First Southern Baptist Church of Bakersfield”, and not be affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention because, say, the board of deacons at some point in the past withdrew the church from the SBC rolls for some reason or another. The only way to know whether a particular church belongs to the SBC or not is to ask them. And even that isn’t all that enlightening, because as I noted, probably 60% or more of Southern Baptist churches are still “officially” members of the SBC on paper but have ceased providing anything but lip service for that membership — they support their own parallel set of seminaries and such to provide a clergy for their churches that is, well, not crazy. They prefer remaining members of the SBC because they believe this gives them more clout with society as a whole as well as access to discount hymnals and such, and the crazies keep them on the roster because the crazies *know* that saying they represent 16,000,000 Southern Baptists gives them more clout than saying that they represent the 4,000,000 Southern Baptists who are, well, crazies.

20 Bryan { 12.17.07 at 5:44 pm }

That’s different than down here, because the SBC affiliation is pretty prominent, but then, they publish a local “Christian” business directory and put “fish” on their advertising and signage I don’t quite understand what the difference is between a “Christian” and a secular lawn irrigation system, but I have the choice.

Given the history of the local area, it seems an awful lot like the “white robes on Saturday” crowd to me.

California is definitely a schizoid environment with the widest range of possibilities of any state in the union.

21 Michael { 12.17.07 at 9:17 pm }

I’m sure you meant “perennial,” badtux, but I think “perineal” (“of, relating to, or situated in the perineum,” the area between the anus and the genitalia on a human being) may be a far more appropriate adjective to use with regard to the modern-day SBCers.

I’d agree, Bryan, that it’s probably not a good idea to use music from only one composer in a wedding, unless that particular composer was hired expressly. From my few experiences with weddings, the couple (or at least one member thereof) usually comes in with a laundry list of songs they want to hear that’s longer than all four of their arms placed end-to-end, many of whom are guaranteed to be inappropriate for a church service. I’d be amazed to learn that anyone in the modern era could be convinced (without being browbeaten, anyway) to give up creative control of the wedding music, since these days it seems “whatever the couple wants” has become the watchword in the wedding industry. Never mind that what the couple wants is totally beyond their means or those of whoever is paying the bills, is totally unworkable, and in the most abysmal taste possible: it’s “their” day.

Pfeh. Makes me rather happy to think that I’ll probably never have to worry about any of that BS in my lifetime, at least assuming I don’t move to some other point on the globe between now and shuffling off this mortal coil.

22 Bryan { 12.17.07 at 10:38 pm }

Weddings tend to bring together diverse groups and it is always helpful if at least something is the service is familiar to the difference groups. It isn’t conducive to the successful event when someone’s elderly relative is muttering rather too loudly that “I thought this was a church. Sounds like rock and roll to me. Bunch of hippies, the girl is marrying into a bunch of hippies.” Not everyone enjoys “praise songs.”

23 Badtux { 12.18.07 at 3:01 pm }

You should hear Minstrel Boy over at “Harp & Sword” mutter about “praise songs”. To quote:

A yearly gripe with me is most of the “new christian” music. Usually it’s a combination of bad music and bad religion. A friend stopped by with a song she wants to sing at her church and is wanting me to play backup. My gripe with this song is typical of my gripe with both this kind of music and this kind of faith.

Here’s my short version of the song. . .

We start out with nice, light holidayish full of baroque filigrees stuff and the lyrical theme is along the lines of Oh, look at the lovely stable, see the beautiful star, there in a lowly manger, how happy we all are. . .

then there is an abrupt change to dischordant crashing and jangling minors and the voice tone switches to sound like Korn with a hangover


Give me Pretorius, Luther, Mendholsson, Bach, Handel and the other tried and true classics of the holiday. Lest any of you think that I’m a faithless bah humbug Grinch I must also report that I have already agreed to accompany my 12 year old nephew who has been taking guitar lessons for three whole months when he plays “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Silent Night” at his church Christmas weekend.

That’s what a musician with 30+ years in the industry thinks of “praise songs”. Needless to say, I agree fully :-).

– Badtux the Music Penguin

24 Bryan { 12.18.07 at 3:54 pm }

I view most of them with the same regard I have for Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, which some regard as a “Christmas classic.”

25 hipparchia { 12.18.07 at 9:46 pm }

grandma got run over by a reindeer is positively celestial compared to practically anything that can be labeled contemporary christian.

26 Bryan { 12.18.07 at 11:09 pm }

The chant, carol, and hymn are all very old forms. I have heard contemporary composers who use those and similar forms for new religious music. Some of it is featured on the St. Olaf’s Christmas special that was on NPR today.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep the song within the vocal range of a congregation, while leaving space for soloists to work their magic.

27 hipparchia { 12.18.07 at 11:25 pm }

one of the things i truly enjoy about going to church with my very fundamentalist relatives [women will go to hell if they wear pants, cushions on the hard wooden pews are an abomination unto god, musical instruments are instruments of the devil] is that they can flat sing. few things can equal the experience of standing in the middle of a roomful of people with incredible vocal range and harmonizing that seems to come as naturally to them as breathing.

28 Bryan { 12.18.07 at 11:46 pm }

The human voice is a wonderful instrument and a group of them will blend in fabulous and amazing ways. There is a long history of singing in southern churches that has produced many famous popular artists, but the music needs to be designed for the instrument.