We left off asking why is liberalism being criticized on all sides, a mere thirty years after it was supposed to be the end state of human affairs?
The internet seems to be the most significant change. The internet gave us unprecedented freedom of choice. You could choose your own identity. You could speak freely without consequence. “[A] group of social outcasts could come together to form a chosen family.” You could watch whatever sex you wanted. You could Google all the facts of a liberal arts education. The masses suddenly had more liberty of choice than at any time in history.
But a massive expansion of choice and free speech did not give us Utopia. It gave us 4Chan and Twitter.
Worse, the internet showed the American dream – a dream of curated consumption – wasn’t universal. A good degree, a fulfilling career, a happy marriage, the house with a picket fence, a few kids: these were once seen as the just desserts of all moral, educated Americans. But the internet showed us many moral and educated Americans did not receive their expected birthright. You can, in fact, overspend on education. You can wreck generations of your family by going to Baylor.
And the education available to you has been colonized by a theory of sociological constraints. Whatever freedoms you appear to have, you’ll be taught, they’re steeped in evil. You can’t escape the ugly history that led to today. Freedom and autonomy aren’t liberal arts, to be practiced, but the spoils of complicity and guilt. Your racist job funds a commute to a racist suburb, where you live in your racist home, within your racist marriage – and your only atonement is to do the work.
College degree or not, all of us have had an apocalypse about sex. The old taboos are subject to instant replay. And contrary to what authorities said, the video shows convincing evidence that people enjoy them.
But if the internet shows you infinite identities, and each of them might make you happy, how do you find out besides trying all of them? Psychologists have long noted that people who lack choices will often fight for them, but “many choices can be psychologically aversive.” Social media has had a particularly negative effect on adolescent girls. And for those girls, there has been a sudden jump in nonbinary self-identification, apparently responding to these new choices. Some have reported that body dysmorphia spreads socially.
Even if you could process the sheer number of intersectional choices, there is another problem: identity isn’t self-constructed. It depends, in some way, on the thoughts and actions of others. If “the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” what happens when others won’t cooperate in your definitions? You could be legally free to have a same-sex marriage, but religious critics remain. What if you’re freed from your assigned gender, but others don’t agree you’re different from natal women in important ways?
So if the world’s array of choices seemed like a glorious cornucopia to Anthony Kennedy, most of us will not – cannot – be made happy by more choosing. Aaron Renn posted a snippet from the Anarchist Library about the meaning of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street protests:
“The true content of Occupy Wall Street was not the demand[s]… but disgust with the life we’re forced to live. Disgust with a life in which we’re all alone, alone facing the necessity for each one to make a living, house oneself, feed oneself, realize one’s potential, and attend to one’s health, by oneself. … At last it was possible to grasp … our equal reduction to the status of entrepreneurs of the self.
The Preacher of Ecclesiastes said as much: “Vanity! What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?” The core of Baptist political theory is the Bible, including the wisdom of Ecclesiastes.
So as much as Baptists have benefited and agree with the Declaration’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for common government, liberty and the pursuit of happiness aren’t happiness. Freedom to choose does not prevent alienation. Amazon Prime subscriptions don’t produce a body politic.
The apocalypse of choice is that after all of your choice is exhausted, you may remain alienated. Miserable. And then what?
And then some people turn to force – some kind of illiberalsim.
Pseudonymous blogger NS Lyons captured the seemingly inconsistent demands of today’s liberalism: individualism is so sacred, it requires force to overcome natural and political obstacles.
From this perspective it is more obvious why the amorphous ideology referred to as “Wokeness” so often seems mixed up and chaotically self-contradictory: it is the confused response to two opposite instincts. On the one hand it is actually a kind of anti-liberal reactionary movement … But, on the other hand, it simultaneously attempts to continue embracing the boundless autonomy of individual choice as its most sacred principle … And this hyper-individualism has now collided head first with the technological revolution, which increasingly positions itself as offering hope for the boundless potential necessary to escape from any natural limits whatsoever, including by fracturing any solid definition of what we once thought it meant to be human.
How should we react to the apparent ‘end of liberty?’
That’s the next post.
For the past few years, conservatives have been debating whether they are “post-liberal”. A recent article in The Federalist says we need to stop calling ourselves conservatives. “They should … start thinking of themselves as radicals, restorationists, and counterrevolutionaries.”
Are conservative Baptists post-liberal?
In J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, liberalism was on the other side of Christianity, and those categories have stuck for a century. So “post-liberal” might appeal to Southern Baptists of today.
But these aren’t just critics of liberals. They’re critics of ‘liberal democracy,’ the Western political tradition. So the post-liberal debate is not about ‘the libs,’ it’s about liberty.
And it would be a big deal if Baptists are post-liberty.
Our Baptist tradition is steeped in congregationalism and democracy. If liberalism is fundamentally flawed, can you still be part of a spiritual democracy?
Even asking seems taboo. For most of my life, it would have been pointless. The Soviet Union collapsed. China seemed like it could be bribed into freedom. The most celebrated companies ran Super Bowl ads based on 1984, against fascism and conformity. Racial inequality seemed to be fading, along with the War of the Sexes.
Liberalism was so successful, theorists got a little punchy. In 1992, Francis Fukuyama wrote that we’d turned the corner of an epoch; we’d reached “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
Today, that end-point seems less universal. China took our money but not our values. Afghanistan took our arms but not our democracy. Russia—once so eager for American advisors—has declared war against the West.
Even in the West, the home of the tradition, liberalism is having a rough go. To give only one example, in the US, the Republican base seems to support right-leaning social policy more than lazziez faire economics. But Republicans continue to focus on economics, even where it underperforms. But in the social arena, educated conservative “elites” lost the public meanings of ‘marriage,’ ‘man,’ and ‘woman’ in about a decade. These ideas hadn’t been up for serious debate at any point in recorded history.
Maybe democracy wasn’t so natural and universal. And maybe all that freedom of choice doesn’t create human capital. Maybe endless choice isn’t the key to more Ivy League students or FAANG software engineers.
But this has left many Conservatives confounded. They believed they were selling something everybody wants; a universal freedom, Fukuyama-like. Freedom and liberty have motivated our politics for centuries.
But in 2022, young Americans are embracing atheism and soft-totalitarianism in unprecedented numbers.
If conservatives can’t sell freedom, for goodness sake, are they bad at persuasion or is the game rigged?
To understand the size of the question, you must understand how long “liberalism” has been the consensus. In 1215, rebel English noblemen swore to “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm,” and in a few months had obtained the Magna Carta from King John. Nearly ever since, English speakers have seen “more liberty” as something good.
Yet this love of freedom arose among socially conservative people. Conservatives, says Roger Scruton, believe “the social world emerges through free association, rooted in friendship and community life.” The most important identities and relationships are voluntary and community-based, not state-driven.
Of course, some people will use their liberty to make bad choices. Liberalism often tries to curb bad choices with education. Today, a “liberal arts education,” is vapidly promised by every two-bit college. But for centuries, a liberal arts education meant giving people the facts and skills necessary to live as a man or woman with freedom.
This created a Western, liberal consensus: if you give people all the information they need, and freedom to express their will, the majority will choose better outcomes. Right-liberals and left-liberals disagreed about the best choices. But they agreed that legitimate government reflected the will—the choices—of its people.
Baptists increasingly found a home in this liberal consensus. Baptists are democratic congregationalists, by conviction. Other churches locate authority in ministers, sessions, Bishops or Popes. But Baptists say the keys to the Kingdom are given to the local church. The majority of members (whether male or female) are the Baptists’ ultimate human authorities. Baptists believe democracy is not just useful, it is divinely required. But the distinction between Baptist democracy and civil democracy has not been explored, causing many to treat the two as the same thing.
Baptists also believe strongly in liberty, especially religious liberty. Early Baptists taught that kings have no power to punish wrong beliefs, and limited power over acts of legitimate worship. John Leland, a notable early-American Baptist, said the government’s rules should apply equally to all faiths: government “rightly formed … embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms.” Good government, he said, “promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion [&] impartially protects all of them.” In other words, if Baptist ideas swept politics, religious beliefs wouldn’t affect anyone’s capacity to participate in government.
A third Baptist distinctive says the Church should not rely on civil power to achieve the Church’s work. According to the Baptist Faith & Message:
The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, about their shared commitments. He coined a phase, that the then-new Constitution had erected “a wall of separation between Church & State.” “A wall of separation” wasn’t in the Constitution, and it wasn’t a theological term of art. Jefferson might have been paraphrasing Roger Williams’ analogy of the church as a ‘walled garden’ that keeps out the rest of the world. But at least during the Baptist Faith & Message era, Baptists have picked up the phrase, affirming that they do believe Church and State should be separate.
Given these connections, perhaps it is no coincidence that Baptists reached their cultural apex around the same time liberal democracy reached its own.
Baptist theorists also got a little punchy, talking about their new epoch. Indeed, it is hard to read Russell Moore’s 2004 book, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective, without sensing the similarities to Fukuyama.
Moore was then a quickly-rising Southern Baptist professor, so conservative as to sometimes extoll “biblical patriarchy.” In his published thesis, Moore predicted a rapidly building “consensus [that] offers a renewed theological foundation for evangelical engagement in the social and political realms.” If the end consensus of human government was liberal democracy, Moore hoped that the final consensus of evangelicalism had arrived, too—and it was more-or-less Baptist. Using ‘gospel centrality,’ Moore predicted the death of evangelical parochialism, especially the “Bible Belt.” The schisms of the past would be internalized and minimized, while culture would see “cheerful warriors” engaged in “public witness” and “cultural engagement.” Evangelical Baptists could become the universal, democratic religion of a universal, democratic epoch.
But looking back, the “consensus” role that Moore coveted was the other American cultural Christianity: the civil religion of educated liberalism. They planned to step into the position vacated by Mainline churches in the 1960s.
Instead, Moore abandoned the Southern Baptist Convention in 2020, calling it a “gerontocracy,” and even a “criminal conspiracy” in 2022.
So, like Fukuyama, Moore’s prediction of a new epoch was deeply flawed. Much of the work built on its unsteady foundation has collapsed into an intra-Evangelical culture war. Moore himself has repositioned as an editor at Christianity Today, trying to ‘save Evangelicalism from itself,’ and recently talked of “crucify[ing]” evangelicalism. It is hard to imagine his predecessor Carl FH Henry making such calls.
Why is liberalism being criticized on all sides, a mere thirty years after it arrived as the victor over history? That’s the next post.
I published a video on my short campaign for President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
Six, Actionable Ideas If I Were SBCEC CEO:
Have you ever run into someone tipsy with anger? The Romans used to say, “in vino, veritas,” but sometimes it’s anger, not alcohol, which lowers inhibitions. A little bump or shake, and the irritated person uncorks with something they’ve been dying to let go.
Consider David French’s recent exchange with Kevin DeYoung.
DeYoung wrote a mild criticism of evangelical criticism. Even valid jeremiads, suggests KDY, can descend into claims that “those people” hold their views because they are “those kind of people.” CS Lewis coined it “Bulverism,” where a critic stops showing why a view is wrong and turns to why the wrong kind of person holds the view. At some point, “[t]here is no persuasion,” of the target, “only pique and annoyance,” says DeYoung. He suggests the rhythms of church life are a more productive method of self-criticism, instead of “another critique of the church in your inbox on Sunday morning.”
DeYoung went out of his way to say that French’s concerns are valid. He criticized French’s abandonment of persuasion. There was room for French to agree that DeYoung’s concerns are valid but disagree that his methods were unhelpful.
But French responded with hostility. French said DeYoung was absurdly unfair and inaccurate, torching’ a ‘straw man’ characterization of French’s work.
So to avoid mischaracterization, what does French say is his driving thesis? In tweet four, he lays it out clearly: ‘White Evangelical theologies’ have a ‘disproportionate commitment’ to Republicans and ‘the culture of the South.’ DeYoung concedes that people can forsake theological principle under social pressure, and even that it is important to criticize those who do.
If everyone agrees the concern is possible, how does French say we should decide? How would we know if there’s a disproportionate commitment to something that isn’t religious principle? In tweets 2 and 3, French says white Evangelicals have “propositions” that “don’t flow naturally” from their theology. Their positions on ‘Trumpism, anti-masking, anti-vaccine and immigration restrictionism’ don’t flow from theological claims, but political or social claims.
So the issue is multidisciplinary: do the politics follow from the theology? You’d be forgiven in thinking there must be a multidisciplinary answer.
Yet French says few theologians have the chops to speak up. “Sadly, when I see pastors wade in on matters of law/policy, it is rare to see superior insight. And when I do it’s because of a degree of committed study that is highly unusual.”
So who can pass judgment? Lawyers and sociologists, perhaps. “Those of us who know law and policy on the other hand, know where ideas come from and transparently, obviously know that many (not all!) of the political positions that characterize white Evangelicals don’t have any meaningful Evangelical theological origin at all.”
David uses qualified immunity – a legal doctrine that limits when government officials can be personally sued for misconduct – as an example of this qualification gap. He says that Evangelicals support it disproportionately, which I question; when evangelicals talk to me about qualified immunity, they use terms that would make the Cato Institute smile. Evangelicals are eager to hold officials accountable for misconduct. But maybe these are just anecdotes; maybe evangelicals do support qualified immunity at radical levels. Do their political actions contradict their stated theology?
It’s revealing that French does not assert any violation of a theological rule. Rather, French says the theology practitioner has nothing to contribute to his point. “What’s the pastoral insight here as to why a judge-made doctrine that gutted part of the Klan acts should receive disproportionate Evangelical support?” The answer to the rhetorical question is supposed to be “none.” In a theo-political crisis, French says the meaningful insight comes from careful students of law and social science, not students of theology.
So how will the reader know that Evangelicals are pursuing politics at odds with their theology? When “those of us who know law and policy” say so. Those who disagree are (likely to be) people without committed study, people without superior insight, people who don’t know where their ideas even come from. In the end, French doubled down on the Bulverism; people who disagree with his take are often the wrong kind of people.
But let’s go beyond the Bulverism and note that French’s argument took a serious deconstructionist turn. He is no longer asking whether Evangelical theology accounts for political concepts but asking if theology submits to political conclusions.
Of course, French is not saying the Bible is untrue. But he is at the next layer of the authority question: if the words are true, whose theology says what they mean? Jonathan Edwards, slave owner? Paige Patterson, interrogator? Beth Moore, lector? Jemar Tisby, anti-racist? Rather than settle the argument, it’s easier to take a shortcut: “those of us who know law and policy” decide, because theology isn’t involved. But why would anyone think theo-political questions don’t have theo-political answers?
This demand that Evangelical theologies must submit to specialty viewpoints isn’t new. What came to be known as “theological liberalism” was never limited to saying the Bible was “untrue” or “errant.” Rather, the Mainline came to doubt their own ability to understand and apply Biblical truth. If the Bible’s words are indeterminate or silent, if all the evangelical creeds are held at bay as equally unsure, then there must be something else making the decision, often some claim about science, or sociology, or political theory. J. Gresham Machen described the problem of “equal uncertainty” about the creeds in his 1931 classic, “Christianity and Liberalism”:
“The objection involves an out-and-out skepticism. If all creeds are equally true, then since they are contradictory to one another, they are all equally false, or at least equally uncertain. We are indulging, therefore in a mere juggling with words. To say that all creeds are equally true, and that they are based upon experience, is merely to fall back upon that agnosticism which fifty years ago was regarded as the deadliest enemy of the church. The enemy has not really been changed into a friend merely because he has been received within the camp.”
In the (human) law, that kind of uncertainty produced “legal realism.” The realists didn’t deny the law was true, they rejected formalist accounts of the law. According to the realists, humans weren’t applying legal principles to facts, as they claim to do; the rules were indeterminate and open to a wide range of contradictory outcomes. Rather, you could understand the law by seeing facts and outcomes. To the realists, “[b]efore rules, were facts; in the beginning was not a Word, but a Doing. Behind decisions stand judges…as men they have human backgrounds. Beyond rules, again, lie effects.” 1
The effects and outcomes became the wrapper of truth around the vague, indeterminate words of the law.
And here lies the nub: to the textual realist, it is all too easy for the observable effects to become the analytical tools, the real universal principles. Lickety-split, the “true truth” is not the text, but observations and judgments about the outcomes. If our texts can’t compel the right outcomes, we must settle disagreements by resorting to theories that decide for us – the theories that “help us see effects of sin” where our doctrines do not.
Like the scholars raised in the Mainline a century ago, today’s Evangelical scholastics are shaken in their beliefs about Evangelical authority. It isn’t a repeat of Machen’s 1920s, but it rhymes. Some are grasping for truth beyond the reach of theology, where the Evangelical theological parochialisms are all the same.
And that’s old-fashioned theological liberalism.
Karl N. Llewellyn, Some Realism About Realism–Responding to Dean Pound, 44 HARV. L. REV. 1222, 1222 (1931). ↩
Baptists believe there is no higher church authority than the local church; each is “autonomous.” That autonomy is grounded in deep theology, not just pragmatism. Some Baptists are so separatist as to be unable to cooperate with others.
But the larger portions of Baptists in the United States cooperate, but carefully. They want to avoid complicity in the wrongs of other churches and people.
The Southern Baptist Convention has become the United States’ largest protestant denomination through an intricate set of relationships. They try to maximize the things Baptists can agree on, without making each other responsible for the things we disagree on. A church in the SBC might have a female minister of education; most churches will disagree with that position, but not feel “responsible” for the other church’s wrong. But if it affects our cooperation, upwards of 50,000 people can try to conduct a town hall meeting, where direct votes are taken. Even among Evangelical protestants, the Southern Baptist experiment is unusual.
A few years ago, the Houston Chronicle posted a series of articles showing the downside to this cherished autonomy. Story after story described women abused in one church, only to find their abuser had gone to another church.
If you wanted to identify a sexual predator in SBC churches, pure autonomy makes it difficult. Predators worm into social groups, and push the limits to find victims until someone gets suspicious. Then the predator moves somewhere else, to begin again, until someone doesn’t get just suspicious, they catch them dead-to-rights. This doesn’t just happen in Baptist churches; Boz Tchividjian cites studies showing that an average molester averages twelve victims. But if you were to design a system to catch the predator earlier, the most common way is to get people to share their suspicions with each other earlier, so they see a pattern. And there is no church that can make another church say report.
Americans, though, highly value personal liberty; “mind your own business” describes Planned Parenthood’s position, just as much as modern Bible translations put the same words in the mouth of the Apostle Paul. If you think a person is a threat, a common first instinct is to get rid of the danger, not fight to get proof for a jury. Thus, all fifty states now have some kind of mandatory reporting, a legal obligation to report to some governmental authority if you any evidence of child abuse.
But what is your obligation to another Baptist church? If you have a bad feeling about Jane Doe, and she suddenly moves to another church to teach youth, what should happen? Should you share your suspicions? Or what if you know that Youth Intern John Doe has had a sexual relationship with one of the students in the youth program? If they’re close in age, and it was consensual, it might not be illegal in your state. If he confesses and repents, should that follow him to the next church?
I’d argue “yes,” but I’m afraid I’m in the minority. On responding to ‘reference checks,’ my sense is that many people would say the church should just confirm employment and termination dates. They’ll say something about avoiding lawsuits and what big companies do in refusing to give out negative information. They’re concerned that maybe the suspicions and allegations aren’t true, or aren’t up to Biblical requirements.
In the past, some Baptists were pretty bold about this; it was not uncommon to see letters to the editor of Baptist newspapers, warning other churches to beware of a fleeing preacher or abuser.
What are the ways to encourage cooperation between local churches on this? One is to give churches reassurance that they won’t be sued; Bart Barber worked on a bill toward that end signed into law; I worked with a state legislator in Missouri on a similar bill, but it died with the COVID pandemic.
Another ongoing suggestion has been a database of credibly identified sexual abusers.
Jenn Lyell’s abuse by David Sills at SBTS (and the Executive Committee’s response to it); Hannah-Kate Williams’ suit against multiple SBC institutions, claiming they ignored obvious signs of abuse; Tiffany Thigpen’s abuse by Darrell Gillyard, a preacher fast-tracked by then-SBC leaders; the ouster of Paige Patterson over his “break her down” comments and subsequent attempts to commandeer a board seat at a Texas foundation; and the mind-blowing claims against Judge Paul Pressler all contribute to the idea that something is not right in our Baptist Zion.
Under our autonomous polity, most Baptists think of the “system” almost like Adam Smith’s invisible hand. It’s an outgrowth of decisions made in tens of thousands of independent churches, by millions of individual Baptists.
The closest thing to the “center” is the comically hamstrung “Executive Committee,” the only entity tasked with thinking about the SBC as a whole. The EC’s main job is to accept gifts to the SBC, and to distribute them according to the budget. While it has authority to “act for the Convention in matters otherwise not provided for,” the Convention leaves little not provided for. The EC can ask and talk, but it can’t order another SBC entity or Church to do anything. Its 86 members are typically leaders from Baptist state conventions, who socialize, review financial reports, and set talking points at their meetings.
But the dot at the top of the Baptist organization chart is also the point where all the money enters the SBC under the Baptist offering system, the Cooperative Program. In the 1920s, when Baptists formed the EC, American law recognized “charitable immunity.” If you were injured by a charity, you couldn’t take its money or property to satisfy a lawsuit judgment. But in the late 20th Century, most courts liberalized these rules, and so charities suddenly had to consider “Plaintiff’s lawyers” and “class actions.” They began to fear that outside courts and lawyers would make decisions for religious groups, by swamping them with legal fees or extreme judgments. The SBC did not change too much, because its agencies were all separate. But there were efforts to change terminology, like shifting from “agencies” to “entities,” because ‘agency’ implies a kind of direct control by a principal that might bring ascending liability. The lines of limited authority by the Convention were made clearer using the “sole membership” terminology developed in the law, to clarify the SBC was separate from its entities, even as it had rights of governance.
Most Baptists are predisposed against litigation and lawyers, perhaps for understandable reasons. Paul chides people who file lawsuits rather than seek resolution inside the Church. And so, going to lawyers is seen as a last resort, lawsuits or not. I’ve had many people tell me something like “it’s a shame we need people like you.” And this is an easy-enough belief when, in popular culture, lawyers are portrayed as ambulance chasers and fabricators of frivolous claims of spilled coffee and unverifiable whiplash injuries.
This pop-culture attitude to lawsuits, combined with a 1970s fear of ever-expanding-and-overreaching tort lawsuits colored the Southern Baptist response to any suggested reforms. Added to those unusual risks, there was little-to-no chance Baptists would consent to putting it a centralized data base of Baptist abusers at the EC, the one place where all the money flows through. Their lawyers imagined the denomination losing control of its finances at a single point of failure, and thus collapsing the Convention’s ministries into one giant till for the trial bar. For them, it was a question of whether the Baptist system of direct democracy would survive American tort law. Anything controlled as directly as a church controlled its pastors and deacons was a single unit of liability, which could be swamped in some tragedy.
And beyond that, another key factor: no body in the Convention wanted the hot potato. Not the Seminaries, not Lifeway Publishing, not Guidestone, and not the “Southern Baptist Convention” corporation that only operates two or three days a year. And certainly not the smallest agency, the ERLC, known for its radio shows and Washington “lobbying.”
For one thing, people are more aware of real victims. Hollywood might play up false claims of abuse, but it has become clear why the Harvey Weinsteins of the world might oversell that story. And while Jezebel and Potiphar’s wife were real, so are Bill Gothard and Ravi Zacharias. My first blog was keeping congregants informed about the fallout of a [sexual abuse scandal at my home church], where the pastor’s son had fathered a child with his intern in the young adults ministry. Several years later, the pastor suddenly resigned after his own adultery was uncovered.
In the SBC, the story of Jenn Lyell has galvanized the younger generation of Baptists that know her personally; she has advocates at most of the entities, who would like the EC to reconsider her claim using independent investigators. That’s opened the door to listening to longtime survivor advocates like Christa Brown and Dianne Langberg, and Rachel Denhollander, some of whom had been shut out.
The legal landscape has also shifted. While there’s not been a return to charitable immunity, the Courts are not rapidly expanding tort liability. Most state legislatures have enacted some form of tort reform. And Courts have been pretty consistent in protecting legally separate entities; the horrors of “ascending and descending liability” have mostly been made predictable. It’s unlikely, for example, that Southern Seminary will be liable for misconduct at Southeastern Seminary. The SBC and EC consistently win those suits, although the Florida Baptist Convention did get embroiled in a case in which it controlled a church planter who abused a boy.
For these reasons, I think it’s time for the SBC to at least have this debate. Should we have a database?
A database still has real hurdles and risks. I am not sure most Baptists want it, or are willing to take the risk. I am not sure those Baptists who want it fully comprehend the risks.
For me, the question is whether those risks can be managed and implemented consistent with Baptist polity. Churches can’t be required to check, or required to report to a database, and it would work best if coupled to some other carrot, like SBC cooperation. And that kind of “authority” may rankle some churches. But even if Baptists exercise their maximal authority to nudge churches to check the database, it will be virtually impossible to make it an accurate database. There will be gaps and wrong claims in any list.
And so, there will be lawsuits. Victims may sue if they think the database was unreasonably incomplete. Some people will make false claims in the database. But the issue is not “will the database be sued.” It’s America; we’ll be sued for not doing anything, too. The issue is losing control of our assets and ministry because of lawsuits. Just as the Convention vaunts its 50-and-0 lawsuit record, and just as NAMB has been sued by Gerald McRaney, getting sued is not the end of the world. It’s losing the “big ones” that matter.
I think most such lawsuits would lose their claim. The First Amendment should protect most church-to-church communication, and church-to-database-to-church communication; it may be possible to get statutory protection in Tennessee for such communications. As long as there is insurance, that litigation can probably be made manageable, and over time those costs will decrease.
Some will no doubt have a concern about the level of proof for reports, given I Timothy 5:19’s requirement to avoid accusations against elders that don’t have two or three witnesses. I imagine churches will be able to screen requests for reports that meet the level of proof they feel is required.
There are still good reasons not to put the database at the SBC Executive Committee. And one of the biggest reasons is the stream of money that flows through the EC. The EC can be a fiduciary for the Convention. It houses the Convention’s credentials committee. It protects the Convention’s gifts. It’s difficult to imagine putting the database-for-churches service at the most power-restricted, cash-rich bottleneck of the Convention. As much as the law has improved, it will be irresistible to those hoping to siphon money away from the SBC, for whatever reason.
For another, the EC lacks experience in responding to sex abuse victims – and may be unable to ever be able to fully respond. If the reported abuser reports that the SBC is involved in the abuse, the EC then would be put in an impossible position, having to do what’s best for the Convention’s assets, while responding to a victim that needs trauma care and to make a claim. All the incentives are a mishmash.
More, the EC mostly provides services to the Convention, not the churches. It organizes meetings and committees for the Annual Meeting. It reports news. It owns an office building used by other entities. It does provide PR materials for the Cooperative program, but not directly to churches. A database, however, is a service to Christians and churches, more than for other entities of the SBC.
For all these reasons, if Baptists want to really explore this idea, it should happen separately from the Executive Committee.
The ERLC, however, has a long history in developing resources in this area, especially in the past few years. Most Baptists will trust it on this issue. And all four of the ERLC’s ministry assignments begin with “Assist[ing] churches.” The ERLC helps churches apply moral and ethical teachings, helps them communicate in the public area, and helps churches in their moral witness. And the ERLC’s ministry of helping churches promote religious liberty is relevant to the First Amendment right of churches to share information about ministerial qualification with each other.
The Convention defines the ministries of its entities.
Yet the SBC Bylaws call for open communication between the Executive Committee and Trustees, and for them to study and make recommendations to the Convention. While it may be possible to go straight to the SBC with such a request, the most natural place to turn is for the ERLC’s Trustees to ask the EC to cooperate with it in making and recommending an expansion of the ERLC’s ministry statement to include: “To assist the churches by offering them a confidential method of communicating to each other concerning concerns about fitness for service in the churches or SBC entities.”
This would require some reallocation in the Cooperative Program, or else outside funding. Hopefully, if the ministry statement is approved, plans would be in place for consideration of reallocation at the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting.
If you have thoughts or comments on what the motion should look like, please comment below.
Clark makes one point worth mulling in the future: is neo-evangelicalism’s focus opposed to revivalism? Or is it the latest incarnation of feel-good revivalism?
the neo-evangelical project … was always organized around great personalities and the successor movements are just as dependent upon them. They are still children of the First and Second Great Awakenings.
But the biggest question Clark raises is about vitality of this movement; he compares confessional evangelicals with what he calls “tansdenominational” evangelicals.
RSC sees Pietism, Revivalism, and Confessionalism uniting in the late 19th Century, to fight against the Rationalism and Enlightenment that swept the universities. But he says leaders of the early fundamentalists were tied to churches (like J. Gresham Machen), whereas the children of fundamentalism went consciously transdenominational:
The great hero of the early fundamentalist movement, J. Gresham Machen, was dead and some of those who had studied with him wanted to retain his high view of Scripture, but they also wanted to move on. They wanted to influence the broader culture and to leave behind his commitment to the Westminster Standards and his Presbyterian view of the church and sacraments. Scholars call this movement, led by Carl F. H. Henry, Henry Ockenga, and Bill Graham, among others, neo-evangelicalism. This movement would seek to be both faithful to a small number of core theological commitments and culturally influential.
RSC says neo-evangelicalism lasted about thirty years, before its children split into “emergent” and “YRR” streams. The Emergent stream was more critical of the past. But “the YRR movement … sought to get the old neo-evangelical band back together.”
And perhaps it was no coincidence that the neo-evangelicals and the YRRs were optimistic, post-war coalitions. The Henry-Graham coalition took off about a decade after World War II; Christianity Today was founded in 1956. John Piper’s Seashells sermon, in 2000, came about a decade after the USSR and Fukuyama’s jubilant End of History. Both, in a sense, became the church of Western values.
Clark contrasts trandenominational pietism with “confessionalism.” He sees John Williamson Nevin, B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge as adjacent and critical to 19th Century transdenominational revivalism but tethered instead to confessions and ecclesiology. It was those tethered to ‘confessionalism’ that were the heirs of the Reformed tradition of sola scriptura, yes, but also Sola gratia and sola fide.
So, Clark says it’s strange that Wax calls out to personalities (Stott, Graham, Packer) as examples of evangelicalism, and contrasts them with “Fundamentalism” (presumably of the Bob Jones variety). The Confessionals of the Warfield and Machen variety are missing. Confessionals, Clark says, remain tethered to a church and ecclesiology with deeper commitments than Christ transforming Culture. “Certainly, Christians want to engage the culture from a Christian perspective, but the outcome of that engagement does not belong to us.”
All this suggests the occasional hubris of “neo-“ pietism might start out with the hubris of people “on the other side of history,” where all the old conflicts are over. But it becomes a holding pen for children critical of their elders on some point, who need a new coalition to ‘get over’ some point of ecclesiology, theology, or politics. When the Henry-era coalition split, the smaller YRR coalition is set to split again: the relationship between truth and authority, and the role of gender and authority. We never manage to get the fundamentalists’ questions behind us.
As a Baptist, I’m only half sure Clark would accept us as “confessional.” But where he says the key “is a holistic theology, piety, and practice lived out in the context of congregations and in the life of the broader institutional church,” I agree.
Transdenominational movements and websites don’t reproduce. They are “platforms, not institutions,” in the language of Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build. Even the institutions built by the neo-evangelicals turned into platforms, not institutions. It is fascinating to watch Evangelical personalities engage with Levin; they decry the loss of Western institutional authority, but don’t see how they’re the voices on platforms built on the wreckage of the once-great-institutions they’re speaking from.
Denominations, for all their faults, are embodied institutional knowledge. They are proven to have the tools to pass knowledge and community from one generation to the next. Those tools can be destroyed and broken down; those tools might depend on cultural factors no longer present. But Baptist congregations have the tools to reach eight generations; each new generation of transdenominational pietism needs another ‘neo’ to stay alive. No one is baptized into the Church of TGC or CT.
Indeed, the healthiest of the YRR coalition were explicitly ecclesiological. You know what church they’re a part of. Mohler explicitly tried to make SBTS “as Baptist as possible.” John MacArthur is local-congregational. Mark Dever’s 9Marks rose to fame on “elders” at a time that “entrepreneur-founders” became the dominant corporate model; but Dever’s actual ministry is particularly, peculiarly congregational.
Wax’s call for neo-neo-neo-evangelicalism dovetails with his inability to grapple with Rod Dreher’s core thesis. In a throwaway line in his review of Dreher’s Live Not by Lies, Wax tosses out the sign he’s not really read Dreher’s earlier book, the Benedict Option, with care. Wax says Dreher is a breathless messenger of the alarm: “the culture is lost, so run for the hills!”
The Benedict Option was scorned by BigEva as a call to ‘retreat to the hills.’ But it wasn’t that – Dreher was reacting to the collapse of Christian reproduction and institutions. We need to figure out how to reproduce in our children and communities before we claim to offer cultural renewal. Our sick churches produce sick communities; our missionaries carry sick churches. So Dreher’s popular-level thesis isn’t all that different from Levin’s later thesis: our institutions don’t produce and build on the inheritance of prior generations. And it was not all that different from Dever’s ecclesiology-driven focus on “healthy churches.” Our culture’s ‘personality-driven’ evangelical platforms have eaten up generations of seed corn. Soviet agriculture had better harvests than the current crop of neo-neo-evangelicals.
That’s not to say I don’t want a strong evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is a “trasdenominational” phenomenon, but nobody is really a transdenominational evangelical. Rather, strong evangelicalism is a byproduct of denominations, not a goal.
CS Lewis famously analogized denominations to rooms off a Great Hall, but the goal was to leave the Hall.
“It is in the rooms, not in the hall that there are fires and chairs and meals. The Hall is a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For That purpose, the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.”
“Above all, you must be asking which Door is the True One, not which pleases you best…”
Contrast Lewis’ vision with Wax seeking men and women who identify with the Hall:
For this reason, the question I’ve been asking lately isn’t if there are “real Christians” out there, but whether there are “classic evangelicals.” Is there a future for Christians in various denominations and different countries who share the instincts of leaders like John Stott and J. I. Packer…?
So, to mix the analogies, Wax sees the Hall as the safe middle ground between the rooms of Fundamentalism and the outdoors of Progressivism. He asks if the “debates of the last decade may have jeopardized one of the primary insights from this cross-denominational renewal movement—”: the gospel lets us avoid fundamentalism on the one hand, and progressivism on the other hand.” Fundamentalism is behind every door.
There are doors off the great hall that contains fundamentalists; they tend to be hard to open from the outside. If there’s an actual fundamentalist threat, the answer is to work on making the room less fundamentalists.
“Being in a room that isn’t fundamentalist” is dramatically different than imagining a class of “transdenominationalists” thought leaders, with a hand on a lintel and two feet in the Hall. Those men are the least like those in the room. They hear all the angry critiques from those who are passing out the door, back into the Hall. And so, the consensus in the Hall is that the rooms must be full of dangerous fundamentalists, compared to the Hall, full of people who don’t care about such things.
But the Hall is a mirage. It given a shape by the rooms; the rooms are not created by the Hall. And health comes from inside the rooms, not the Hall; in fact, the Hall is only full when people won’t (or can’t) go into the rooms.
If there’s a future for “evangelicals,” it requires each Christian to find a congregation and an ecclesiology and build it into something that can pass down the inheritance to the next generation. Putting a new set of institutions in the Hall will end in the same place: a wasted decade, and another neo-.
I do not know if we will survive, but I wish that some day we will be able to call things by their proper names, as courageous people do.
[Gabriel Malor highlights a quote from Judge Thapar about the inconsistency of Roe’s jurisprudence.] https://twitter.com/gabrielmalor/status/1436375776362999809/photo/1
Sometimes you will hear the religious left say that the Religious Right has fallen for a charade; Republicans won’t overturn Roe, because they need the votes and the controversy to raise money and have votes to win.
Thapar’s dissent is a reminder that national abortion law isn’t set by Federal politicians. And my sense is that more and more federal judges (even Republican judges) would like to see Roe off the table. The Constitutional theory of Roe (extensions and penumbras) is an obstacle to the core of the Republican version of liberal democracy. So ending Roe is not merely the goal of religious people; capital doesn’t like rules involving penumbras and implications, either.
Ending abortion is not a goal shared by big capital, and so they are just as uncomfortable in the Republican coalition as the social conservatives are uncomforatble in league with the global capitalists. So fiscal and religious conservatives would both like to realign a little, but can’t, as long as the dichotomy between the parties is textualism versus non-textualism (progressive radicalism). Anti-textualism puts Big Business at the whim of the politicians and the masses-that-aren’t-customers; the rules can’t be trusted.
So, there’s some reason to believe Roe will end, and is not just a Republican ploy to fleece evangelical voters.
In the last post, I wrote about the Christian ethics of vaccines that have some connection to an immoral taking of life. Christian theologians generally say connections should be avoided unless there’s a grave reason. If there’s a grave reason, the question is whether those grave reasons are proportionate to the ethical concerns.
Most Christian ethicists and most evangelicals say the grave risk of COVID-19 far outweighs any remote connection between the vaccines and a 1960s abortion.
But some people will differ. They will decide the evil is great, or the connection less remote, so that the grave reasons are not proportionate to the evil.
As a result, when Baptists encounter people who sincerely ask for religious exemptions, we believe we should honor each other’s conscientious objections, as much as we can. Sometimes, we can’t. But we should ask if we can. And if we can, we should.
Many people would prefer not to alter their own plans for the conscience of others. And so, they will try to show the religious person isn’t sincere.
Americans love nothing better than seeing a blowhard hoisted on his or her own petard. And so, when a religious person makes a seemingly illogical or inconsistent stand, people start looking for petards. Because the religious person is drawing a line in an unanticipated place, it’s easy to assume the worst – that this person is a blowhard, seeking special treatment, and selfishly imposing harms on others.
When the law asks if a religious person is “sincere,” many people want to instead ask if the religious person is being consistent.
But most people find the religion of other people “inconsistent.” Christians find Buddhists inconsistent. Muslims think Christians are inconsistent. Presbyterians think Baptists are inconsistent. Some Southern Baptists think other Southern Baptists are inconsistent – and most Southern Baptists admit they have, in fact, been inconsistent on important issues.
So religious liberty has not, and never will, depend on whether others can poke holes in the religious person’s consistency. The claimant doesn’t have to align with their co-religionists, or their minister. Forty years ago, a much-less-conservative Supreme Court said: “Religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
The Supreme Court said so in an interesting case. Eddie Thomas was a Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists. Eddie Thomas took a job in the Blaw-Knox Foundry, which made sheet metal – mainly for making weapons. A few months later, the sheet metal line shut down, and Thomas was assigned to a job making tank turrets. Thomas raised a religious objection.
The Supreme Court of Indiana tried to hoist Thomas on his own petard. If Thomas was sincerely a pacifist, he should have objected to making metal for bombs in a war factory. And a fellow Jehovah’s Witness had remained on the job, making turrets. They decided this wasn’t a “cardinal” religious belief.
The Supreme Court of the United States overruled. The question is not “consistency,” but whether there is a sincere religious belief.
But even if the test is sincerity, not consistency, some Evangelicals have always argued against vaccination. They have mostly been in the minority. But the fact that Evangelicals keep coming up with similar arguments tends to support the idea that evangelical objections are consistent within certain assumptions.
Shortly after inoculation was developed, there were theological arguments for and against it. Edmund Massey, M.A., preached a sermon in 1722: “Against the Dangerous and sinful Practice of Inoculation”; it was republished in Boston in 1730, amid an inoculation controversy. Edmund’s arguments were that illness is sent to punish sin or test the faith, so that resort to inoculation reflected a lack of faith:
Let the Atheist then, and the Scoffer, the Heathen, and Unbeliever, disclaim a Dependence upon Providence, dispute the Wisdom of God’s Government, and deny Obedience to his Laws: Let them Inoculate, and be Inoculated, whose Hope is only in, and for this Life! But let us, who are better instructed, look higher for Security, and seek principally there for Succor, where we acknowledge Omnipotence: Let us not sinfully endeavor to alter the Course of Nature by any presumptuous Interposition: Let us bless God for the Afflictions which he sends upon us, and the Chastisements wherewith he intends to try or amend us; beseeching him to grant us Patience under them, and in his
The Massachusetts religious establishment took the other view. Increase Mather wrote in favor of it, and William Dodd preached a sermon still republished in medical journals. But, of course, inoculation might be reasonable, but it still held risks. And Jonathan Edwards famously died after his smallpox inoculation, showing that even reasonable actions are no guarantee against death.
In 1777, John Newton wrote a letter, acknowledging that some were taking the vaccine as a “salutary expedient which God in his providence has discovered…” But then he described the thinking of the vaccine hesitant:
My times are in the Lord’s hands; … If I am to have the small-pox, I believe he is the best judge of the season and manner in which I shall be visited, so as may be most for his glory and my own good; and therefore, I choose to wait his appointment, and not to rush upon even the possibility of danger without a call. If the very hairs of my head are numbered, I have no reason to fear that, supposing I receive the smallpox in a natural way, I shall have a single pimple more than he sees expedient; and why should I wish to have one less? Nay, admitting, which however is not always the case, that inoculation might exempt me from some pain and inconvenience, and lessen the apparent danger, might it not likewise, upon that very account, prevent my receiving some of those sweet consolations which I humbly hope my gracious Lord would afford me, if it were his pleasure to call me to a sharp trial? … Besides, at the best, inoculation would only secure me from one of the innumerable natural evils the flesh is heir to; I should still be as liable as I am at present to a putrid fever, a bilious colic, an inflammation in the bowels, or in the brain, and a thousand formidable diseases which are hovering round me, and only wait his permission to cut me off in a few days or hours: and therefore I am determined, by his grace, to resign myself to his disposal. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great …
Much the same arguments were present in Britain in the last half of the 1800s, when rigorous enforcement of vaccine requirements led to the formation of the Anti-Vaccination Leagues. Parents could be fined and imprisoned for failing to vaccinate – and in Leicester alone, more than 6,000 prosecutions were brought. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 1984, 59, 1195-1196. The religious rhetoric was heated; “Religious arguments were some of the most profoundly terrifying of the anti-vaccinators. With the fate of the soul of both parent and child at stake, the choice to oppose vaccination seemed clear.” The opposition to mandatory vaccination was led by clergymen, including Rev. William Hume-Rothery (COE) and Archdeacon Colley. Wrote Hume-Rothery: “There is no principle or eternal law which is God’s will as revealed to man, underlying, justifying or illustrating this unnatural practice, which must, therefore be unprincipled or atheistic and consequently not merely opposed to all that is good, but fraught with evils which it would be difficult to estimate.”
Colley couched the vaccines as ungodly modification of the body: “what insolence to suggest that the Almighty cannot perfect His own work in the gift to us of a tender infant, without medical intervention and the sacrilegious alteration of the composition of the blood.” Others suggested the vaccines allowed “demons and ghouls into the glorious tabernacle of the body, the inside of which they should never see.” (Walter, Madison P., “The Rhetoric of Nineteenth Century British Anti-Vaccinators: An Interdisciplinary Movement of Medicine, Religion, Class, and Popular Culture” (2015). Student Scholarship. Paper 8.)
The battles remained heated, and even violent. In 1885, an estimated 100,000 people marched against vaccination in Leicester, closing factories and warehouses; that same year, French Canadians violently rioted in Montreal, wrecked the health department, and threatened to shoot authorities supporting vaccines. Anti-vaccination groups tended to endorse compulsory quarantine or hospitalization, which did seem to allow for control of smallpox outbreaks where the system was adopted.
These vaccine-mandate battles lasted almost five decades in Britain, from compulsory vaccination in 1853, until parliament allowed for conscientious objection in 1898.
Nearly all these arguments against vaccination seem wrong to me today. Wrong on the facts, wrong on the science, wrong on theology. Almost from the start, they go left where I’d go right. Yet it’s impossible to say all these objections were fraudulent. To suggest that an objector is “insincere” in his religious objection, you are accusing them of knowing their objection isn’t grounded in religion, or that they know their religious arguments are wrong.
The “Church of Weed where Weed is Illegal” is insincere; the “High Priestess of the Sex Church” was insincere. But that’s not the case for religious opponents of vaccination.
That similar arguments keep reappearing in Evangelical churches over the centuries tells us these are Evangelical arguments. It’s tempting to Bulverize the reasons they went wrong: they didn’t love their neighbor, they didn’t trust the science, they were engaged in a neo-fundamentalist hermeneutics, or they just don’t like being told what to do.
But it’s impossible to say every evangelical religious objector is insincere.
American government has always been able to handle claims of religious exemption, without breaking down, in times of war, pestilence and disease. The few religious objectors to the COVID-19 vaccine do not present a new threat to Constitutional government or religious liberty.
In nearly all cases, we can honor their requests, and still acheive our public health goals.
The frazzled nerves of Americans are on full display. In April, we all hoped that we could get jabbed and relax. Instead, as summer vacation ends, parents must wrestle with science, pseudoscience, and politics to make plans for their students.
The most frazzled seem to be in the professional classes. People still want too-simple solutions and one-step plans. And the professionals’ too-simple answer has been to “get the vaccine, and this will end.” It has turned into a one-step blame game: “if this doesn’t end, it’s because you didn’t get the vaccine.”
Understandably, no one wants to be blamed.
Unfortunately, some normally patient Evangelical leaders have resorted to desperate, fraazzled cajoling. To show a watching world that Evangelicals aren’t to blame, they must claim that real Evangelicals will get the vaccine. And then, they resort to undermining religious liberty claims of all the Evangelicals who disagree.
It leads to a logic like this:
•Claim 1: Fringe religious groups might have religious beliefs implicated by vaccines, but Evangelicals really can’t.
•Claim 2: Because Evangelicals can’t have religious beliefs impacted by vaccine mandates, those who claim religious exemptions are insincere.
•Claim 3: If we allow insincere (fraudulent) Evangelicals to seek religious exemptions, it will “hurt us when we really need religious liberty.”
But this is not an argument; this is Bulverism.1
I’m vaccinated. I’m a cancer survivor. I was scientifically poisoned in the ’90s, to great effect; “natural is best” isn’t my guide to life or medicine. So I’m glad for the common grace of scientists and officials who have produced a temporary defense against COVID-19 in record time. And, on balance, it seems to me that the vaccines will save enough lives to justify the risks. “Pretty healthy” people are dying from COVID. Most people should take reasonable, ethical precautions to avoid death.
But while I share the ‘mainstream’ evangelical conclusion, it’s wrong to suggest all the other Evangelicals are liars and loons.
And that third claim is particularly dangerous. It isn’t limited to COVID. Rather than view “religious liberty” as a Christian obligation to fellow humans, it sees “real religious liberty” as a chip in our negotiations with the State. It is the religious liberty you’d use to retain influence in a coalition government, not the principled religious liberty of early Baptists.
First things first: can Evangelicals have religiously motivated objections to taking a vaccine? Yes. Evangelicals can have different conclusions about the vaccines and still be Evangelicals.
The media likes to talk about religion and vaccines like there’s a switch. For Christian Scientists, the switch is off. For Protestants, the switch is on. For Roman Catholics, the Pope himself seems to say the switch is on. So, if you’re a Christian who claims the switch is “off,” the thinking goes, you must be using false religious claims to mask some other, non-religious motive.
But that’s not how Christians think about the ethics of vaccines.
Granted, there are non-religious objections to vaccine mandates. You can ask if they’re safe, you can disagree with scientific studies, you can question the motives of the scientists behind the studies. You can argue it’s beyond the government’s authority to jab you against your will, or that it’s a violation of fundamental rights. You can be scared of the consequenses of vaccine passports or social credit scores. You can believe it’s unhealthy for small children to be masked, or question the long-term effect of mRNA vaccines. But none of these are “religious” objections.
If you don’t have a religious objection, you shouldn’t ask for a religious accommodation.
But there are religious concerns about vaccines, too. The most common ethical concern about the current vaccines is their relationship to stem cells. The stem cell lines at issue came from an aborted fetus, almost sixty years ago. Cells from that fetus have replicated and replicated and replicated; the replicated cells are in all kinds of modern medical tests. According to the best information I have, some COVID vaccines are produced using stem cells; others only test using stem cells.
Those stem cells involve Christian ethical concerns. In 2008, the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith wrote that “the aim of public healthcare cannot justify voluntary abortion in order to obtain cell lines for vaccine production – and thus their distribution and marketing is also morally unlawful in principle.” But – and this is the big but – “grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’.”2 “Proportionate” invokes a fraction or balancing test. If there are grave reasons to use improperly obtained material, those grave reasons must outweigh the wrong. Fine lines and crow’s feet are not “grave reasons,” so stem cells in cosmetics remain off limits. But death is the sine qua non of “grave reasons.” If there is a risk of death, the ethical question involves proportionality. Most of us know the basics of that balancing. You can speed on the way to the delivery room or kill someone in self-defense. Most college-educated people are introduced to harder ethical problems like the famous “Trolley Problem” or the travails of the Donner Party.
At the danger of making things seem more precise than they really are, a balancing test works something like an equation. You should take a COVID vaccine if GR[ave reasons] are sufficiently more than the E[vil] involved. Or something like:
GR > E.
In 2017, the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a note about how to balance stem cells and vaccines. The abortion was a long time ago, the use of the stem cells didn’t require any new abortion or other evil act. So, we are left with a formula where the evil reduces proportionately as the time increases, something like:
GR > E/t
The Academy approved the use of clinically proven vaccines, even if they contained stem cell lines. But it wasn’t clear how the clinical approval worked in relation to the ethical balancing test. Was it that the clinical approval solved ethical procurement decisions? Or were they saying the evil is distant and remote? In terms of our formula’s variables, were they saying E=0 or that E/t=~0?
It seems to be the latter. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith continues to talk in terms of the proportionality test. In December 2020, it acknowledged that some COVID-19 vaccines use ethically suspect materials, but that the farther from the initial wrong, there are “differing degrees of responsibility” in cooperation with that evil. Christians should prefer vaccines that do not use ethically suspect material, it said. But where a vaccine prevents death, ethics allow a Christian to decide a clinically approved vaccine outweighs any residual cooperation with the original wrong.
But, the Congregation says, those ethics assume vaccines are voluntary.
And the Congregation expected some Catholics to continue to have objections, or to prefer some vaccines over others, based on whether they used stem cells. “Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccines produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent.”
If Catholic institutions say the vaccine is acceptable, why do they allow that others may reach a different conclusion?
Because the real moral work is not in establishing the formula. The hard part is assigning values to moving targets. At what point can you always feel right about indirectly benefiting from an unethical abortion in the 1960s? At what point does God stop judging?
That’s hard to say, apart from your conscience, or direct communication from God.
Of course, the easiest way to justify the decision is to make sure the Grave Risk always outweighs the Evil. And the easiest way to do that is to make sure E=0 – if there’s no evil involved, it doesn’t take much of a reason to justify taking the vaccine.
That seems to be the consensus position of Catholic and Evangelical ethicists that I respect. Ryan Anderson, Robbie George, and other Catholic thinkers have said as much in Public Discourse; that position has been echoed by Andrew Walker and C. Ben Mitchell in a corresponding evangelical essay. Anderson, et al., deny that stem cell lines are “body parts” or “human tissue;” they’re immortal, biological products. And the distance from the original abortion means there is no “contribution, cooperation, or promotion” of abortion. Thus, E=0.
To all this, I say: maybe. Yes, there’s a difference between the original fetus and the descended tissues. Yes, sixty years is a long time ago. Yes, the ship has mostly sailed; stem cell products are used so widely, it’s nearly impossible to live in the United States without benefitting in some way from ethically questionable stem cells.
But it also has the feel of throwing your hands up. “They’re everywhere” doesn’t say when unethical stem cells turn into ethical stem cells. These experts can tell us they think E is now approaching zero, based on their experience with moral dilemmas and their own consciences, and the cold hard realities. And I agree with their discussions of the variables.
These are good, educated, theological examples. But none of their arguments are proof that E is zero.
And how could they say there’s nothing wrong with stem cells in vaccines, while still encouraging scientists to develop alternatives to these stem cells? Why waste time on alternatives, if the lab can focus on developing other cures that stave off real death? So there must be some substance to E, no matter how small it seems, even after 60 years.
The vaccine question, then, involves judgment.
It involves your own judgment, of course. Life unavoidably involves tough decisions about complicity. All things being equal, I’d choose a vaccine that does not involve stem cells. But at the risk of being wrong, I judge the good of either choice to outweigh the connection to a murky 1960s abortion.
But it boils down to God’s judgment. If I am wrong, God will judge me. He will judge every person’s decisions, whether it is about COVID vaccines or speeding to the delivery room or killing in self-defense.
So the claim of Evangelical vaccine exemption is a claim that looks like many conscientious objection claims: “please do not make me do this thing that God says I should not do.” The objection does not depend on irreligious assumptions. It depends on assigning a different weight to the wrong, or a different effect to the passage of time.
And if there is anything open to good-faith religious debate, it is how to measure evil and the effect of time. The Christian consensus is that there’s nothing wrong with a good steak, but vegans and vegetarians have a different view about complicity in the evil of factory farming. Modern social justice movements say there’s collective and macroscopic complicity by people who benefit from systems of racism begun hundreds of years ago. The 1960s is more than my lifetime, but it’s hardly time immemorial. We know that God is, in a sense, outside time – but also interested, acutely, in resolving the smallest bits of evil. Whatever I think about complicity and responsibility, it’s impossible to say everyone else is insincere when they disagree.
So we know some evangelical objections to the vaccine are grounded in a religious framework. And the outcome of that framework depends on matters of conscience. Most Christians will believe the good of the vaccine vastly outweighs the distant and remote relationship to an abortion in the 1960s. But some will honestly conclude otherwise, based on religious principle.
Thankfully, there is nothing new about such objections, and they don’t present any real threat to religious liberty.
Bulverism: the rhetorical fallacy coined by CS Lewis, which combines circular reasoning with condescension and presumption; it explains why the person is wrong, by attacking motive. ↩ ↩
Evangelicals, of course, don’t agree with Catholics about everything. But Catholics have thought about Christian life ethics consistently for longer than Protestants, so their insights remain valuable in this area. ↩
Rod Dreher shares thoughts on an essay by Steve Skojec:
It was especially interesting to me to read Skojec, a man I’ve been following for years, consider that those non-trads who believe that there is something valuable in depicting the beatified young Acutis as he was in life might have a point. This is not the Steve Skojec of old. Something is changing within him.
What’s changing in him is something that is going to come for all of us, if it hasn’t already.
The Internet is apocalyptic in the old sense. It isn’t the “end times,” but it is revealing. In the same way the fruit in the Garden was promised to be apocalyptic, and the “Revelation to John” was apocalyptic. If the Internet apocalypse isn’t entirely spiritual, it is similar to the apocalypse of the printing press, which led to the Reformation and the Engligtenment.
The Internet, in some ways, pulled back the curtain on both. There are no sustainable heroes in a world of 24/7 cameras, and when everyone is complicit in history. And there are not many sustainable taboos when videos of every taboo are widespread – and the subjects seem to be having fun, contrary to what the books and authorities told you. Both the Enlightenment and the Reformation developed ways to think about authority; those modes of authority are now under steady criticism, and seem quite tired.
Gutenberg’s press predated Luther’s theses by about a century; I suspect the answers to our present apocalypse may be away, off in the distance.
#2 Is this polity Baptist?
graph TD A(God) --> B(congregation) B --> C(Pastor-Elder) B --> D(deacons)
I think you can use [Mermaid syntax](https://mermaid-js.github.io/mermaid/#/) to draw your own Baptist Polity in the comments below.
graph TD A(God) --> B(congregation) B --> C(Pastor-Elder) C --> D(deacons)
Comforting words today:
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.” – Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov
Esther O’Reily asks ‘what happened to David French?’ and talks about how he was subjected to racist attacks:
there really was an alt-right. Case in point, look at what happened to David French: For the sin of adopting a black child, he and his family were deluged with verbal abuse, vile memes, and even death threats.
I do sometimes wonder what David French’s inbox and timeline look like. And the same for people like Rudy Giulianni, or Russell Moore.
I am just important enough to get a one-a-month missive from an anonymous European mailserver. It knows a lot about Southern Baptist controversies, and tries to make me angry about various cucks or wokes or anti-whites or something. But the English is … off. And they don’t quite know the teams; they make mistakes like thinking fundamenalists would be embarassed by creationism. And every once in awhile, they try to sell me on neo-paganism.
Altogether, I conclude somebody wants to polarize Southern Baptists. It could be an actual white supremacist group. But I can imagine a cubicle farm in a foreign country, with teams organized around American political groups. It doesn’t make money, and it doesn’t make religious sense – but it makes a little political sense.
You wouldn’t think readers believe this obviously terrible stuff. But then Brent Hobbs posted one of those emails as an example of the “friends” of the Conservative Baptist Network. Karen Prior chimed in to suggest she was never aware of a CBN connection to these supremacists before, as if this might now show a connection. No one seemed to question whether they’d been duped by an obvious disinformation and polarization campaign.
There are Baptist critics of Russell Moore and Ed Litton, but I bet nearly zero of them are dabbling in neo-paganism, social darwinism, and actual white supremacy, combined with the time, stamina and technical knowledge necessary to send years of monthly emails using central-European spamhubs. They don’t make sense as an actual political effort. But they do convince some gullible members of SBC Twitter that their critics are the kind of people supported by white supremacists.
Who else gets this kind of treatment? I have heard hints that prominent Evangelical parents of nonwhite children received a steady attack from the “alt-right” in 2015 and 2016. Let me be clear, I believe there is an alt-right, and it could be a danger to the poorly discipled. But I don’t believe it is compatible with Evangelical faith, and it doesn’t have much of a foothold in our churches. But when the SBC began to debate a resolution against the alt-right in 2017, several denominational leaders said they were getting lots of online abuse. How many racists would develop the deep knowledge of Southern Baptist politics necessary to target those leaders?
Given the state of the art, it would probably take too much time and effort – even for a state actor – to shape the inboxes of the massess; Google’s spam filter is pretty good. But a bunch of Twitter-facing evangelical leaders seem to get regular email from neo-fascists. And those leaders seem ready to believe the emails.
What if the inboxes of our leaders don’t reflect reality? Our leaders may not watch Fox News for hours a day; but they might spend hours a day in their email, discipled by their messages.
If you were determined to divide and polarize important American political groups, could you shape David French’s worldview through his inbox, texts, and DMs? Or Russell Moore’s?
And if you could get key evangelical leaders to loose faith in evangelicals, what would happen?
The April-June issue of the 9Marks journal is out and the topic is “Deacons.”
I’m grateful for 9Marks’ resuscitation of the elder. The return of a “plurality of elders” among 21st Century Baptists can be chalked up almost entirely to 9Marks, along with a few friends like Founders.
But that leads me to a question seldom asked: where did all the elders go? Why was the “pastor and the deacons” combination nearly universal in Southern Baptist churches for over a century?
In the Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever suggests “inattention to Scripture” and “the pressure of life on the frontier” may have contributed to the decline of elder plurality..
Those are both right, in a sense, but I think we’re still missing the largest force pulling our polity out of line: the laws around church formation.
Were American Baptists ‘inattentive to scripture’? In some sense, all sin is a failure to heed God’s commands in scripture. But if there’s a “Baptist” trait, it’s persnickitiness about the scripture on churches. Having rejected Popes, cardinals, synods, presbyters, sessions, and state churches, at least some Baptists are always insisting they want church as the Bible commands, no more, and no less. The 19th and 20th centuries had no shortage of literalists and Fundamentalists willing to call out deviations. There were hard-shells and landmarkers, anti-missionary Baptists, anti-missionary society Baptists, anti-Sunday school Baptists. Dever’s introduction to Polity describes the serious 19th Century conflict over indoor baptisms versus outdoor baptisms. The Baptist commitment to following scripture and individual conscience is so high, they appear needlessly schismatic to many outsiders.
So, while any error is connected to inattention to scripture, it’s strange that there wasn’t much of a fight between Baptist “elderists” and “deaconists.” No group called out the encroaching pragmatism and liberalism of the deaconists, and no deaconists claimed the watching world needed their orthopraxy more than sermonizing. If a plurality of elders is biblical and historical, how did the deaconists win without a fight?
Was it furthered by “life on the frontier?” Again, yes, in some sense. The shortage of ministers during the westward expansion in the US meant many churches were irregular. In my home state, Missouri, missionary pastors arrived shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, and would ride circuit. Many Baptist churches held services only once or twice a month. The idea of a “cooperative” mission budget developed in Missouri when a glut of guest-preaching fundraisers threatened to take over most of the preaching in those frontier churches.
But even on the frontier, Baptists longed for regularity. They understood the New Testament goal was to have their own deacons and preacher, and to meet each Sabbath if not more often.
So how did people attentive to scripture, and longing for New Testament polity and health, wind up with a “deacon-led” polity? Like the answer to so many Baptist questions, you’ll need to go back to the Glorious Revolution to find the source.
As you’ll recall, after Henry VIII broke with Rome, the Church of England persecuted dissenters that did not submit themselves to the Royal-led Church. Baptists believed the King lacked authority over religious matters and refused to submit to his church. And so, the Crown persecuted them, along with other groups of “nonconformists.”
In the late 17th Century, Baptists found a friend in King James II, who had converted to Catholicism later in life. James’ conversion was scandalous but tolerated, as long as his heir was his protestant daughter. He used his personal power to blunt persecution of nonconformists, and his “Declaration for Liberty of Conscience” was welcomed by many Baptists. But many Anglicans feared James was paving the way for a return to Catholicism. When James fathered a Catholic son in 1688, it threatened to create a Catholic dynasty, and plunged England into crisis. A few weeks later, seven Protestant nobles begged Prince William of Orange to invade. William, a Dutch Calvinist, had married James’ protestant daughter, Mary. When William landed in England with a small army, James fled.
This “Glorious Revolution” meant the English monarch would remain protestant. But William and Mary also saw no reason to force dissenting protestants into league with dissenting Catholics. They viewed Catholicism (and Catholic countries) as the real political danger, so one of the first acts of the new monarchy was an “Act of Toleration.” The Act allowed nonconforming protestants to have schoolteachers and houses of worship, on certain conditions. 1
Now you’ll understand why there was an explosion of Baptist works in the late 17th Century. Baptists were finally allowed to gather legally and write out their theology at length. Much of the Second London Baptist Confession (dated 1689) responds to the political and legal questions around toleration. 2 So in the few years around the Glorious Revolution, Baptists laid down many patterns that we still follow today.
Here it is important to understand what the Act of Toleration allowed. While it was a great leap forward for religious liberty, it was nothing like the United States’ First Amendment. The Act of Toleration imposed a long oath to support the King and Queen and required swearing off Catholic doctrines. But even after taking the oath, nonconformists could not hold most public offices.
And to preach, nonconformist ministers still had to affirm most of the Church of England’s thirty-nine articles. “Anabaptists” (and Baptists) could opt out of Article 27’s commitment to pedobaptism. They had to register a place of preaching. But unlike their later, American counterparts, early English Baptists seem to have agreed to take these oaths.3
And congregations also had to register a location. Each “congregation or assembly” had to register a “place of meeting,” with notice to the bishop, local deacons, or the justices of the peace.
Even after jumping through all the hoops, nonconformists faced legal disabilities. There was a legal structure around Anglican churches, ministers, parishioners, and the heirarchy. But the Toleration Act did not provide a neat way to put nonconforming ministers, houses of worship, and congregations under the same umbrella. Dissenters were banned from public office, and corporations were considered a public office from the King. So, law did not recognize a “Baptist Church.” The law recognized individual people. Some individuals could preach. And other individuals could associate to hear a permitted preacher, but only at registered location.
This is an easy enough problem to solve if someone owns a house. After the Toleration Act, many Baptist churches met in houses, cottages, or barns. A sympathetic individual could register his home as a meeting place, and then arrange to have a minister preach. These property owners tended to be wealthier and older patrons.
But what happened if the owner of the church house died? Or left for another denomination? How could property be secured to a particular church if dissenters could not form corporations?
Dissenters had to deal with these problems the best they could.
The common legal workaround was a “trust.” Ancient English law allowed landowners to devote their property to a charitable purpose, including lawful exercise of religion. The land might be “owned” by one or more individuals, but the English courts would force the owners to honor the purpose of the “trust.” One could leave property to a single trustee, but as the entire purpose was to avoid the hassle of a person’s death, trusts typically have more than one trustee. And to avoid ties, there are usually three trustees.
For many churches in England, then, their “trust deed” became their most important governing document. Just as it sounds, the trust deed dedicated the property to religious uses; it was a deed that created a trust. Without the trust deed, the title to the property was impermanent; without permanence, it was difficult to stay properly registered. And the penalities for unregistered ‘conventicles’ (gatherings of dissenters) were severe, at least in theory.
It should come as no surprise, then, that trustees were often the deacons. Deacons are charged with care of the physical ministry of the church. It makes sense that churches combined these legal and spiritual responsibilities. Even where deacons were not technically trustees, they generally were responsible for the use of the property.
But you’ll also see that, as the landowners, it was the trustees that legally allowed the congregation to gather on their land. And it was the land-owning trustees that allowed for any preacher. Because the minister had to register his preaching location, it was impossible to register without the consent of the Trustees. And even if the congregation elected a new pastor, it was the trustee-deacons who would have to provide the trust’s consent to the continuing use of the property. Without the permission of a landlord, it was difficult to stay properly registered.4
In fact, it was often the Trustees that arranged for a preacher for the dissenting congregations in their area. At some points, real estate speculators were building chapels to rent to dissenters, in essence deciding which ministers could draw crowds to the property, rather than any congregation setting aside a minister to special work.
You can see this system still at work in Charles Spurgeon’s autobiography, a century and a half after the Act passed.
Spurgeon’s invitation to preach at New Park Street came from a “London deacon.” He corresponded with the deacon, and the deacon arranged a boarding house, in Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury. After the sermon, the presiding deacon immediately offered Spurgeon a six-month engagement, confident that the congregation would back him at the next business meeting. The resolution that passed instructed the deacons to communicate the offer and “make the necessary arrangements” for compensation.5
In another example, at the end of Chapter 32 of his autobiography, Spurgeon said the crowds at his London pastorate were growing, and he wanted a bigger building. But he had to convince his deacons, and he did so in his sermons:
“By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down; and by faith, this wall at the back shall come down, too[,” Spurgeon preached.] An aged and prudent deacon, in somewhat domineering terms, observed to me, at the close of the sermon, “Let us never hear of that again.” “What do you mean?” I inquired; “you will hear no more about it when it is done, and therefore the sooner you set about doing it, the better.”
Spurgeon convinced the church, which asked the Deacons to construct an addition. But then Spurgeon says legal problems caused a delay; the properties involved were on different Trusts, and the “Charities Commission” had to get involved.
Earlier, Spurgeon wrote about his predecessor, Dr. John Rippon’s dealings with his deacons. The deacons had been reluctant to spend money on a new almshouse, despite Rippon’s encouragement; they said the expense would be too great and the money impossible to raise. Rippon went out and raised the funds himself and made sure the Trust Deed to the property allowed the pastor to select beneficiaries “no deacons interfering.” 337.
So how did the Act of Toleration deform New Testament polity? At its root, dissenting churches were separated from their property, and elders had to mediate some of their connection to a congregation through the property – and its keepers. This meant the law gave the Trust and the Trustees a direct, legal relationship to doctrine. Instead of turning to the congregation for answers, the Courts turned to the Trusttes, which were often Deacons. This little assumption was reinforced by law and circumstances for generations, until the workaround became an unquestioned tradition.
It might seem like churches would press to end these requirements. But the workaround was healthy enough to let churches be healthy enough.6 In most congregations, elders, deacons, trustees, and congregations aren’t in conflict. If a church wanted a plurality of elders, it could have them. But the minimum was an authorized minister in agreement with keepers of an authorized location.
So, this legal workaround, a holdover of persecution of the dissenters, became the blueprint for roughly 300 years. Even in the United States, after most states had disestablished official churches, it was an open question whether State governments should recognize a ‘church’ as a corporation with its own property. Corporations were usually created by the state legislature, and requiring minority faiths to lobby for their own corporations faced obvious challenges. Only in the early 20th century did “general” corporation statutes become widespread, where legal entities could form on general rules, without a special charter from the legislature.
But while so much of what we think of Baptist and Evangelical life flourished under the Toleration scheme, a church could become only-so-healthy. When disagreement or conflict did arrive, the law mediated many questions through the property, and so it gave a little more weight to the property-keepers.7
For several reasons, I think the English “toleration” structure was a primary reason for apparently “deacon-led” churches. When it was later combined with the “independent contractor” model of ministering after the Great Awakening, pragmatism built on legal workarounds. For nearly 200 years, there was no reason to think the law could be changed, so there was little reason for there to be camps of Baptists with opposing views. The shortcomings were most apparent in conflict between pastors and deacons, and so it would have been easier to attributed the dysfunction to elders or deacons. By the last half of the 19th century, Baptists’ vision of their own “tradition” already accounted for the law and the culture it had created.
Like a massive planet, the gravitational pull of the legal system and the culture slowly worked on our seemingly independent polity decisions.
But an important implication of all this: the deformation wasn’t caused by deacons usurping power. If anything, it was the elder office that was more deformed by Toleration. And it would be an equal error to ‘compensate’ by deforming the New Testament Deacon role into mere “dinner table servants,” and not “counting table servants” to the church. The Apostles didn’t fear food service; they no doubt remembered Jesus’ condemnation of religious leaders who devoured widows’ houses and mites. Mark 12:38, et seq. They feared the counting table work would warp their ministry of the Word. The interaction between Spurgeon and his deacons, and respect of the differing roles mediated through the congregation, may have represented a good example of what the relationship should looks like, even without the strictures of Toleration.
And it’s also important to understand that most of the early Baptists were trying to do their best under the culture and law available to them. But at some point, the pragmatism became the tradition, and developed its own inertia.
We probably has similar traditions; what subtle deformations of the offices of elder, deacon, and member are present in today’s church? Do the laws that elevate “directors” or popular corporate leadership models inform our polity more than the New Testament? Even among people dedicated to the Word, in seemingly-healthy churches we would like to reproduce, it is important to think about why we do what we do.
Why did William & Mary offer toleration? The question of nonconformists had split English political interests for a generation. James remained on the run, and a threat for several more months. To solidify protestant power and alliances, William and Mary needed to retain moderate and radical nonconformists. For more, see Scott Sowerby’s remarkable reexamination of James II’s legacy, Making Toleration: the Repealers and the Glorious Revolution. ↩
Compare the Act’s prohibition on disturbing Anglican services (at paragraph XV) (https://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol6/pp74-76), with the 2LBC’s Chapter 26, Paragraph 13, prohibiting the interruption of any church-order (which is like the Savoy Declaration on this point.) ↩
See, e.g., 1696 Oath Rolls for Baptist Ministers in London. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4956164. While taken from earlier confessions, by the time of Toleration, Chapter 23 of the 2LBC allowing for oaths imposed by authority, in matters “ending all strife.” So why did Americans chafe at essentially the same rules? According to one author, the system was unworkable in Virginia, especially for the itinerant evangelists the sprang up in the Great Awakening. The Court that granted licenses was in Williamsburg, met twice a year, and required a new license (and fee) for each location. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/act-of-toleration-1689/. ↩
Joseph Ivimey writes of an unfortunate incident at Prescot-street Baptist Chapel in 1752. James Fall, the son of a Baptist pastor in Watford, was invited by the deacons to be pastor for six months. At the end, most of the congregation voted to extend a call to Fall, but the deacon-trustees were opposed. The deacons told the majority that could take and keep Fall, but not at the chapel. And so began a new church at Little Alie Street. Ivimey, Joseph. A History of the English Baptists: Comprising the main events of the history of Protestant dissenters, from the revolution 1668 till 1760; and of the London Baptist Churches, during that period. United Kingdom: Ivimey, 1823. pp. 555-561. ↩
All facts come from Spurgeon’s Autobiography. Circa p. 370. ↩
It is, again, interesting that the English Baptists didn’t seem to take exception the Act of Toleration, while later American Baptists did. A dissenting minister could not teach until they had signed the required loyalty oaths and signed a “Declaration of Approbation and Subscription” of most of the Anglican Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles. This involved going to chancery court, and formally signing a declaration, as well as paying a fee of not more than six pence. It seems this led to some scrip that could be later checked by authorities.
There was some debate about whether the Act applied in the colonies, but Presbyterian Samuel Davies obtained an opinion from the English Attorney General concluding that the Act did apply. So, the legal system for dissenters was similar in both places.
It seems the Americans especially chaffed against the practical implications, and the Anglican establishment was particularly vexing. In Virginia, the Anglicans interpreted the only place of licensure to be in Williamsburg, twice a year. Preaching before the long trip to Williamsburg was reason for denying future licenses. Ragosta at 18. The Virginia Courts apparently imposed a higher burden of proof, requiring examination by local Anglican clergy. And the Virginia establishment decided a minister could be licensed only to one meetinghouse. This may not have been a problem in dense London, but it caused conflict with itinerant Presbyterians and Baptists on the Virginia frontier.
In the years preceding the Revolution, and then through the Articles of Confederation, Separate Baptists were persecuted for refusing to license their meetings or their preaching. ↩
There are many cases involving seemingly incredible doctrinal transitions in dissenting chapels – for example, Presbyterian churches hiring Baptist ministers, or slowly accepting Unitarians. How did this happen? Well, English Courts generally decided that the actions of the Trustees were good evidence about the intention of the Trust, regardless of the actual faith of the congregation. See, for example, Attorney Gen. v. Bunce, 37 LJ Ch. 697. So, once again, the position of the Trustee ended up legally elevated. ↩
the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.
the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.
From a liberal:
It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals. …
And for God’s sake, please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending that wokeness and cancel culture are all just figments of the conservative imagination. Sure, they overreact to this stuff, but it really exists, it really is a liberal invention, and it really does make even moderate conservatives feel like their entire lives are being held up to a spotlight and found wanting.
I think Bart’s ‘ettiquette’ suggestions are pretty good, especially:
your default vote should be a “Nay” until the resolution earns your “Aye.”
But, I’m not sure even our most Reformed have that stoicism in us.
Witness the debate on the resolution on abuse and pastoral qualificatioins, messengers were told (from the floor) that it was embarassing to debate too long before a watching world, and (from the platform) that it was better to have a strong, non-binding statement, rather than condition it to death like legislation. Local churches could always qualify it for themselves, but it would be good to have a feel-good ‘aye’ now, and your logical ‘nays’ later.
But the passage of the abortion abolition resolution on similar grounds has now caused a kerfuffle among SBC ethicists. The chairman of the ResCom is proclaiming vindication for trying to stop the messengers from making a mistake. It seems like the same could be said said of it, though: give us a stronger, clearer ‘aye’ for the watching world, because it’s non-binding. Let’s not qualify our prophetic statements to death.
If we’re going to frame Resolutions as statements about timely moral issues, I’m not sure we have it in us to risk a ‘no.’
Fascinating throughout, but it starts here with Niall Ferguson:
“I was brought up an atheist—I didn’t become one,” he said. “I regard atheism as the religious faith I happened to be brought up in. It is, of course, as much a faith as Christianity or Islam—and I have the Calvinist brand, because my parents left the Church of Scotland. I was brought up, essentially, in a Calvinist ethical framework but with no God. This had its benefits—I was encouraged to think in a very critical way about religion and also about science, but I’ve come to see as a historian that you can’t base a society on that. Indeed, atheism, particularly in its militant forms, is really a very dangerous metaphysical framework for a society.”
Daniel Strand (@ddfstarnd):
Commonly known but rarely said out loud: folks studying religion, even those who reject it, are working through issues. It’s very personal.
Coppenger is on a roll:
… what followed from the chairman was breathtaking in its “shock and awe” firepower. Yes, the messenger had “poked the bear” in saying they lacked spine as well as clarity, but the viciousness of the response caught the room by surprise.
[T]he speech was a cornucopia of invective and misdirection worthy of classroom analysis. In three and a half minutes, he passionately delivered up a textbook array of fallacious arguments, including ad hominem, ad populum, non-sequitur, and false-dichotomy.
(As an aside, I have to wonder if a few of our pastor/elder-authority champions have become impatient with congregational polity. This might account for some of the annoyance at or bemused patronization toward the peanut gallery. If you’re not accustomed to being crossed in a congregational forum, your ability to handle dissent with genuine respect could atrophy.)
Kevin Williamson blasts everyone to the right of Ed Litton:
Ed Litton, a moderate reformer, has been elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention — and the Reverend R. Albert Mohler has been served his mess of pottage, cold and unsalted.
The Reverend Mohler, the publicity-hog president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville … made the usual binary-choice argument in the usual schoolboy fashion, treating the pro-abortion agenda and sexual radicalism of the Democratic Party as a moral get-out-of-jail-free card for the GOP, for Donald Trump, and, consequently, for himself. … But his political works were not sufficient to save him: In the four-way race for SBC president, he didn’t even make the runoff. He simply was not quick enough on his theological feet to get out in front of the Baptist parade.
A moribund organization engages in a bitter fight over control of its scanty remaining resources, to the great detriment of the organization and its mission and to the material benefit of a few would-be media personalities and frustrated office-seekers. Sound familiar?
A couple of notes:
- While I appreciate the push for diversity, it felt forced/token at times. At best, this is leadership seeking to lead well. At worst, this is intersectionality at work.
- Disunity. I was surprised that the Twitterverse left lauding unity but I left thinking the opposite. I believe the vote was 52% to 47%. That’s not unity. And both sides had plenty of pot shots and sarcasm. Lots of pandering left, punching right.
I know there is concern about the rise of alt-right Fundamentalism in the SBC and the push of a certain group to gain power.
You may be appalled by my willingness to speak against the establishment of a new task force, but perhaps you can appreciate my efforts to give you another side to the matter so that you may press ahead more confident that you’re not being negligent in your cause, for you have listened to an alternative voice in framing you approach.
What good is a Baptist trustee?
This summer, Southern Baptists will elect a President. That President will appoint a committee. Then, the committee will appoint another committee. Then, that committee will present slates of trustees for each SBC entity. And at the next annual meeting, messengers will, by and large, approve those trustees.
What are those trustees supposed to do?
Well, everyone agrees they should meet. But what do they do when they meet? Their lawyers will say something like “they should fulfill their fiduciary duty.” If the trustees do something controversial, you'll hear people call for new trustees that “represent the Convention.” Another group might say to "trust the trustees."
But imagine you cleaned house and every trustee promised to “do their duty” and “represent the Convention.” Would things change?
Well, if “cleaning house” ever worked, it wasn't because people promised to live by these phrases.
Until recently, Baptist churches shared a fairly radical congregational polity. Even big Baptist churches -- Spurgeon's Tabernacle, RG Lee's Bellevue, Criswell's First Baptist Dallas -- gave ultimate authority to members. And those members held regular meetings and made important decisions. If you had to sat in monthly church business meetings for years, and approved enough budgets, there was a good chance you shared some similar understandings about Baptist theology and conventions. After all, someone had to explain why you should vote for all this money going to the Cooperative Program. SBC ministries had to make sense to people in the pews. And those people fiercly opposed religious hierarchy, even as they were compelled to reach the world for Christ.
In a time with strong, shared convictions about the Convention's purpose and limits, then an occasional “house cleaning” might do some good. It would have swept away people with concerns that don't reach local churches. Those concerns could be good or bad, but the sweep would tend to bring “new blood,” people fresh from the pragmatic concerns of the pews.
Of course, Baptists are all-too-familiar with entities “captured” by some other concerns. Southern Baptists in the 1960s and 1970s faced a Convention bureaucracy that opposed its churches on key theological matters. But entities can also be captured when they allow secondary goals to become primary goals. "Growth” is good in pursuit of the right purpose. But “growth at any cost” can cause sickness instead of health.
Having trained and worked with Baptist trustees for several years, I now see limits to the “house cleaning” approach. Fewer and fewer Baptist churches practice strong congregational polity. Nearly everywhere, pastors and laymen call “business meetings” and “Roberts Rules” archaic, unenjoyable, or a waste of time. So, laymen and pastors picked out of the crowd no longer have a common understanding of local church polity, or how cooperative program giving relates to Baptist theology.
Too often, we assume a shared foundation that isn't there. We often portray the Cooperative Program as a clever invention or fundraising method. And of course, the Cooperative Program is a fantastic method, but so is the Girl Scout's cookie sale. The Cooperative Program's genius is not just that it raises funds. Its genius is in the way it raises funds while solving needs and problems for particular churches with Baptist beliefs. Few of our trustees arrive understanding those needs, problems, or beliefs. Indeed, laymen are often nominated to “introduce them to the Convention,” or “help them understand how Baptists work.” Some nominees learn they're in a Baptist church only when they're nominated!
A “clean house,” then, might get rid of a board captured by friends of the leader. But it will do no good if they're replaced by trustees who think of their entity like the Red Cross; or Tesla Motors; or the Heritage Foundation. When those trustees are told to “represent the Convention,” they hear “you do you.” If they are the representatives of the Convention, then whatever they decide to do must represent the Convention. With no shared understanding of purpose, they may even get angry at criticism. After all, what right does anyone have to complain about decisions made by the lawful representatives of the Convention? It's all too easy to shoot back, “trust the trustees,” even when as the ship runs out of the channel and onto the shoals.
So if cleaning house doesn't work, what will?
Well, ideally, SBC churches would produce pastors and laymen with a strong, shared sense of polity and purpose. But we cannot assume that work is done in the pews. Our trustees and messengers need some understanding beyond “trust the trustees” and “represent the Convention.” Instead, we should agree that Trustees at every SBC entity have a fiduciary duty to conduct their ministry assignments in a way that builds trust in the Cooperative Program, as the best way to fulfill Jesus’ commands to churches, consistent with Baptist beliefs.
We'll unpack this over the next few weeks.
Brad's Word Count: 2,669
Brad's claim: Trueman makes three false claims: (a) that CRT has “basic claims,” (b) among them are “racism is systemic” and (c) “being non-racist is impossible.”
Brad's Argument 1: CRT is undefinable, therefore Trueman is wrong about claims a, b, and c.
Brad's Argument 2: Trueman "shows little awareness" of either Critical Race Theory itself or the broader tradition, because scholars of CRT don't use the words Trueman uses in b or c.
Brad's Argument 4: CRT does not make a claim about "being non-racist is impossible," so Trueman is wrong about claim c.
But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle...One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is not in between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.
Brad's claim: "What CRT offers, as mentioned above, is a specific approach to understanding and explaining systemic racism, predominately as a function of law."
She feels sorry for straight people, especially straight women, who typically report some of the lowest sexual satisfaction in society, Ward told Insider. But she also feels sorry for straight men, who are pigeon-holed into toxic-masculine culture that teaches them they both need, and yet should also demean, women.
"It really looks like straight men and women don't like each other very much, that women spend so much time complaining about men, and we still have so much evidence of misogyny," or woman-hating behavior, said Ward of her findings. "From an LGBT perspective, (being straight) looks actually very tragic."
It's pretty common to read American tech elites claiming to be "disillusioned" with the idea of unrestricted "Free Speech." The "Popper Paradox" has been turned into an imperative; and the proof is that Twitter and Parler can't seem to reign in the QAnon conspiracy-religion. So they've concluded speech works best when there's a moderation policy.
There's a variable, though, they don't realize they're holding constant: individual choice. Twitter and Facebook seem to be tools for extreme self-isolation and cloistering. If you choose, the only voices in your bubble are those that reinforce your own views. You can find an audience of people who think Fox News has been taken over by leftists, or that the Religious Right was formed for the express purpose of opposing desegregation.
In the old-fashioned town square, it was nearly impossible to wall yourself off from opposing opinion. In techno-America, we can wall ourselves off from opposing opinions more hermetically than the President himself.
So it doesn't seem to me that Free Speech has failed; rather, we've artificially crated conditions under which speech is only allowed to isolate. We've become atomized to the point that we don't hear dissenting voices -- unless they're passed along with a "can you believe this" framing. But whatever Twitter and Parler are, it is not just an experiment with "free speech." It's a dopamine experiment where subjects can affirm themselves into insanity.
It would be interesting to see Twitter take Free Speech seriously, not just dopamine hits. Maybe we should hear from others in our community, or from other communities. Heck, we should just hear the other side from the same people. Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of the incindiary tweet that is RT'd millions of times, and then retracted in a later tweet. It should be trivial to show the retraction tweet to the same people who saw this misinformation. But Twitter will not do that -- too many customers want timelines of pristine doom and anger. The retraction shames them for believing outlandish claims. The machine for unmitigated doom and anger is, apparently profitable.
But before letting BigTech kill the entire idea of Free Speech, or giving AWS veto authority over public discussion, I'd try changing the algorithims that help Americans self-isolate and self-radicalize.
WSJ posts an "adaptation" of Ben Friedman's new book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Amazon). He argues that, contrary to Max Weber, American economics is tied to mainline optimism about human action:
By Adam Smithâ€™s time, however, Protestant thought had turned away from the idea of predestination. The English and Scottish clergy began to preach instead that men and women are endowed with reason and that human character is inherently good. John Tillotson, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 17th century, argued that far from being predestined to heaven or hell, people can â€œcooperateâ€ with God in effecting their salvation. As the philosopher John Locke put it in a famous metaphor, people have â€œthe candle of the Lordâ€ by which to see and then act.
... In broader terms as well, our economic thinking reflects its optimistic religious origins. The respect we attach to economic self-improvement as an expression of political liberty; our commitment to economic development on the national and even world scale; our belief that economic progress leads to moral progress too; above all, our trust in competitive markets as a way to harness individual economic energies for the broader goodâ€”all of these bedrock principles show that the influence of religious thinking on American capitalism isnâ€™t just historical but ongoing.
You can begin to see how American "woke" capitalism continues this theme. By and large, American capitalism wants social and economic progress to be companions, not competitors, and our latest Great Awokening is no exception.
The epoch times was founded in 2000 by John Tang, an Atlanta-based follower of the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, whose members you might have seen doing meditative exercises in parks, and whose living messiah is Li Hongzhi, a cherubic-faced man generally shown wearing dark suits. The movement, which claims to have millions of adherents, encourages believers to abandon lust, greed, alcohol, and other worldly â€œattachments.â€ Some of the more unusual characteristics of its outlook include a distrust of medical doctors and a belief in malevolent, Earth-roaming aliens who created impious technology (such as video games). In 1999, the Chinese government concluded that Falun Gong was growing too popular. Beijing labeled the movement a cult and suppressed it. But Falun Gong flourished abroad among the Chinese diaspora, and its teachings took on a fervent anti-Communist bent.
I saw my first ET ad on youtube this week, which apparently makes me unusual. But it did feature Roman Balmakov.
Jake Meador spends some time looking for America Christianity after "the White Evangelical Crap."
One source of the crap: too much separation of church and state.
If you deny to government the chance to explicitly acknowledge the kingship of Christ in the very particular and specific way that government ought to, then it becomes very difficult to define the exact relationship between God and government. So government will constantly be veering toward an over-definition of its submission to Jesus or an under-definition of it.
Another: personal property, and individual self-designation.
In other words, they simply created their own identities, independent of geography and independent of any concern with neighbor. And it is this act of self-designation that Jennings sees as being the heart of â€œwhiteness.â€... The economic views exist because an extremely thick doctrine of private property is central to that autonomyâ€”self-designating is expensive, basically.
I have been critical of the long conservative tradition of sniffing out Marxism everywhere in intra-evangelical justice debates. But now the theory is that personal autonomy should be reduced by altering the doctrine of private property, for the benefit of society?
Isn't that ... socialism?
soÂ·cialÂ·ism /ËˆsÅSHÉ™ËŒlizÉ™m/ noun a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
When people argue against "colorblindness," they are frequently arguing against the "colorblindness" of government -- the idea that government should benefit and protect citizens regardless of race, color, or creed.
Thus, in Oregon: "In creating the Oregon Cares Fund, lawmakers took the rare step of explicitly naming a single racial group as the beneficiary, arguing that Black residents have been subjected to unique discrimination that put them at a disadvantage during the pandemic."
I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. Kansas, of course was the home of Carry Nation, and much of this region is ... abstemious. Kansas City managed to stay "wide open" during Prohibition, but the Carry Nations mostly won the social argument after the fall of the local boss, Tom Pendergast. Until, say, the advent of Boulevard beer, alcohol remained at arms length; Ann Coulter clerked for a local judge in the 1980s, and wrote about how surprising the Kansas City social scene was, because it didn't center around alcohol.
For most of my life, the borders of "dry country" have been shrinking. Even among my co-religionists, the Baptists, while teetotaling remains the public position, over my lifetime it's gone from an urgent moral crisis to something more like our version of veganism. You won't lead a Baptist institution right now with a scotch in hand, but it's increasingly common to have churches accept it at weddings and social events, without risking excommunication.
Which is to say, 'temperance' was once a (high) class marker. For the past 40 years, alcohol consumption has been a high-class marker. I expect the pendulum is swinging back toward abstention being the marker of learning and high-class. There have been a fairly steady series of academic studies saying that alcohol has no health benefits, and lots of social costs. And here come the books for popular consumption.
I suspect the Baptists gave up, just as the science was about to shift in their favor. It will be interesting to watch.
If you praise Afghan saffron, you "deligitimize" Iranian saffron by failing to condemn the US sanctions.
BA is fundamentally an escapist project. It sells a life you do not have, using ingredients and equipment you cannot acquire. At least, you cannot acquire all of it. BA produces videos of Harvard graduates literally reinventing the wheel, reproducing mass market foods from scratch, in a sky-kitchen spreading over Manhattan. Its hosts are artisians -- the ingenuius individusals, devoted to a craft, in a famous locale, with witty friends.
But BA can't soar above mass-market food without commodified publishing and commodified audiences. If it were not for millions of people paying attention -- literally paying with their attention -- and buying ridiculously priced goods from advertisers, only the fantastically wealthy could afford to make gourmet skittles (twelve million views) or one-off instant ramen(eleven million views) in a Manhattan sky-kitchen. And if no one else could watch them being made, it's not clear why the fantastically wealthy would even care.
What new fantasy is BA peddling, then? What dream requires engaging in the realpolitik of saffron? Why must your own nation's sanctions policy (approved by a democratic legislature, to deter widely-hated nuclear war!) be tangentially denounced in an article about the cullinary uses of rare seasoning?
If Conde Naste used to sell BA to temporarily embarrassed millionaires, it now seems to sell to the holier than thou.