A little too much coffee and Roberts' Rules.


Baptists & Religious Liberty

May 15, 2024


Introduction by J.B. Gambrell

 “This address was arranged for weeks before the Southern Baptist Convention met in Washington. Washington City Baptists are directly responsible for it. The speaker, Dr. George W. Truett, pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, was chosen by a representative group of Baptists to deliver the address. It was delivered to a vast audience of from ten to fifteen thousand people from the east steps of the National Capitol, at three o’clock on Sunday afternoon, May 16, 1920. It was not a Convention session, though the Convention was largely represented in the audience by its members.

“Since Paul spoke before Nero, no Baptist speaker ever pleaded the cause of truth in surroundings so dignified, impressive and inspiring. The shadow of the Capitol of the greatest and freest nation on earth, largely made so by the infiltration of Baptist ideas through the masses, fell on the vast assembly, composed of Cabinet members, Senators and members of the Lower House, Foreign Ambassadors, intellectuals in all callings, with peoples of every religious order and of all classes.

“The subject was fit for the place, the occasion, and the assembly. The speaker had prepared his message. In a voice clear and far-reaching he carried his audience through the very heart of his theme. History was invoked, but far more, history was explained by the inner guiding principles of a people who stand to-day, as they have always stood, for full and equal religious liberty for all people.

“There was no trimming, no froth, no halting, and not one arrogant or offensive tone or word. It was a bold, fair, thorough-going setting out of the history and life principles of the people called Baptists. And then logically and becomingly the speaker brought his Baptist brethren to look forward and take up the burdens of liberty and fulfil its high moral obligations, declaring that defaulters in the moral realm court death.

“His address advances the battle line for the denomination. It is a noble piece of work, worthy the wide circulation it is sure to receive. Intelligent Baptists should pass it on.

“A serious word was said in that august presence concerning national obligations as they arise out of a civilisation animated and guided by Christian sentiments and principles. As a nation we cannot walk the ways of selfishness without walking downhill. “T commend this address as the most significant and momentous of our day. “

J. B. GAMBRELL, “President Southern Baptist. Convention.”



MAY 16, 1916

Southern Baptists count it a high privilege to hold their Annual Convention this year in the national capital, and they count it one of life’s highest privileges to be citizens of our one great, united country.

Grand in her rivers and her rills, Grand in her woods and templed hills; Grand in the wealth that glory yields, Illustrious dead, historic fields; Grand in her past, her present grand, In sunlit skies, in fruitful land; Grand in her strength on land and sea, Grand in religious liberty.

It behooves us often to look backward as well as forward. We should be stronger and braver if we thought oftener of the epic days and deeds of our beloved and immortal dead. The occasional backward look would give us poise and patience and courage and fearlessness and faith. The ancient Hebrew teachers and leaders had a genius for looking backward to the days and deeds of their mighty dead. They never wearied of chanting the praises of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of Moses and Joshua and Samuel; and thus did they bring to bear upon the living the inspiring memories of the noble. actors and deeds of bygone days. Often such a cry as this rang in their ears: “Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah that bare you; for when he was but one I called him, and I blessed him, and made him many.”


 We shall do well, both as citizens and as Christians, if we will hark back to the chief actors and lessons in the early and epoch-making struggles of this great Western democracy, for the full establishment of civil and religious liberty—back to the days of Washington and Jefferson and Madison, and back to the days of our Baptist fathers, who have paid such a great price, through the long generations, that liberty, both religious and civil, might have free course and be glorified everywhere.

Years ago, at a notable dinner in London, that world-famed statesman, John Bright, asked an American statesman, himself a Baptist, the noble Dr. J. L. M. Curry, “What distinct contribution has your America made to the science of government?” To that question Dr. Curry replied: “The doctrine of religious liberty.” After a moment’s reflection, Mr. Bright made the worthy reply: “It was a tremendous contribution.”


 Indeed, the supreme contribution of the new world to the old is the contribution of religious liberty. This is the chiefest contribution that America has thus far made to civilisation. And historic justice compels me to say that it was pre-eminently a Baptist contribution. The impartial historian, whether in the past, present or future, will ever agree with our American historian, Mr. Bancroft, when he says: “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists.” And such historian will concur with the noble John Locke who said: “The Baptists were the first propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.” Ringing testimonies like these might be multiplied indefinitely.


 Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from man, while liberty is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organisation to which they do not belong and in whose creed they do not believe. God wants free worshippers and no other kind.

What is the explanation of this consistent and notably praiseworthy record of our plain Baptist people in the realm of religious liberty? ‘The answer is at hand. It is not because Baptists are inherently better than their neighbours—we would make no such arrogant claim. Happy are our Baptist people to live side by side with their neighbours of other Christian communions, and to have glorious Christian fellowship with such neighbours, and to honour such servants of God for their inspiring lives and their noble deeds. From our deepest hearts we pray: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” The spiritual union of all true believers in Christ is now and ever will be a blessed reality, and such union is deeper and higher and more enduring than any and all forms and rituals and organisations. Whoever believes in Christ as his personal Saviour is our brother in the common salvation, whether he be a member of one communion or of another, or of no communion at all.

How is it, then, that Baptists, more than any other people in the world, have forever been the protagonists of religious liberty, and its compatriot, civil liberty? They did not stumble upon this principle. Their uniform, unyielding and sacrificial advocacy of such principle was not and is not an accident. It is, in a word, because of our essential and fundamental principles. Ideas rule the world. A denomination is moulded by its ruling principles, just as a nation is thus moulded and just as individual life is thus moulded. Our fundamental essential principles have made our Baptist people, of all ages and countries, to be the unyielding protagonists of religious liberty, not only for themselves, but as well for everybody else.

Such fact at once provokes the inquiry: What are these fundamental Baptist principles which compel Baptists in Europe, in America, in some far-off seagirt island, to be forever contending for unrestricted religious liberty? First of all, and explaining all the rest, is the doctrine of the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. That doctrine is for Baptists the dominant fact in all their Christian experience, the nerve centre of all their Christian life, the bedrock of all their church polity, the sheet anchor of all their hopes, the climax and crown of all their rejoicings. They say with Paul: “For to this end Christ both died and rose again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” . From that germinal conception of the absolute Lordship of Christ, all our Baptist principles emerge. Just as yonder oak came from the acorn, so our many-branched Baptist life came from the cardinal principle of the absolute Lordship of Christ. The Christianity of our Baptist people, from Alpha to Omega, lives and moves and has its whole being in the realm of the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ. “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” Christ is the one head of the church. All authority has been committed unto Him, in heaven and on earth, and He must be given the absolute pre-eminence in all things. One clear note is ever to be sounded concerning Him, even this, ‘““Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”


 How shall we find our Christ’s will for us? He has revealed it in His Holy Word. The Bible and the Bible alone is the rule of faith and practice for Baptists. To them the one standard by which all creeds and conduct and character must be tried is the Word of God. They ask only one question concerning all religious faith and practice, and that question is, ‘““What saith the Word of God?” Not traditions, nor customs, nor councils, nor confessions, nor ecclesiastical formularies, however venerable and pretentious, guide Baptists, but simply and solely the will of Christ as they find it revealed in the New Testament. The immortal B. H. Carroll has thus stated it for us: “The New Testament is the law of Christianity. All the New Testament is the law of Christianity. The New Testament is all the law of Christianity. The New Testament always will be all the law of Christianity.”

Baptists hold that this law of Christianity, the Word of God, is the unchangeable and only law of Christ’s reign, and that whatever is not found in the law cannot be bound on the consciences of men, and that this law is a sacred deposit, an inviolable trust, which Christ’s friends are commissioned to guard and perpetuate wherever it may lead and whatever may be the cost of such trusteeship.


 The Baptist message and the Roman Catholic message are the very antipodes of each other. The Roman Catholic message is sacerdotal, sacramentarian and ecclesiastical. In its scheme of salvation it magnifies the church, the priest and the sacraments. The Baptist message is non-sacerdotal, non-sacramentarian and non-ecclesiastical. Its teaching is that the one High Priest for sinful humanity has entered into the holy place for all, that the veil is forever rent in twain, that the mercy seat is uncovered and open to all, and that the humblest soul in all the world, if only he be penitent, may enter with all boldness and cast himself upon God. The Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation are to the Baptist mind fundamentally subversive of the spiritual realities of the gospel of Christ. Likewise, the Catholic conception of the church, thrusting all its complex and cumbrous machinery between the soul and God, prescribing beliefs, claiming to exercise the power of the keys, and to control the channels of grace—all such lording it over the consciences of men is to the Baptist mind a ghastly tyranny in the realm of the soul and tends to frustrate the grace of God, to destroy freedom of conscience and terribly to hinder the coming of the Kingdom of God.


 That was a memorable hour in the Vatican Council, in 1870, when the dogma of papal infallibility was passed by a majority vote. It is not to be wondered at that the excitement was intense during the discussion of such dogma, and especially when the final vote was announced. You recall that in the midst of all the tenseness and tumult of that excited assemblage, Cardinal Manning stood on an elevated platform, and in the midst of that assemblage, and holding in his hand the paper just passed, declaring for the infallibility of the Pope, said: “Let all the world go to bits and we will reconstruct it on this paper.” A Baptist smiles at such an announcement as that, but not in derision and scorn. Although the Baptist is the very antithesis of his Catholic neighbour in religious conceptions and contentions, yet the Baptist will whole-heartedly contend that his Catholic neighbour shall have his candles and incense and sanctus bell and rosary, and whatever else he wishes in the expression of his worship. A Baptist would rise at midnight to plead for absolute religious liberty for his Catholic neighbour, and for his Jewish neighbour, and for everybody else. But what is the answer of a Baptist to the contention made by the Catholic for papal infallibility? Holding aloft a little book, the name of which is the New Testament, and without any hesitation or doubt, the Baptist shouts his battle cry: “Let all the world go to bits and we will reconstruct it on the New Testament.”


 When we turn to this New Testament, which is Christ’s guidebook and law for His people, we find that supreme emphasis is everywhere put upon the individual. The individual is segregated from family, from church, from state and from society, from dearest earthly friends or institution, and brought into direct, personal dealings with God. Every one must give account of himself to God. There can be no sponsors or deputies or proxies in such a vital matter. Each one must repent for himself, and believe for himself, and be baptised for himself, and answer to God for himself, both in time and in eternity. The clarion cry of John the Baptist is to the individual, “Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: For I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid upon the roots of the trees; therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” One man can no more repent and believe and obey Christ for another than he can take the other’s place at God’s judgment bar. Neither persons nor institutions, however dear and powerful, may dare to come between the individual soul and God. “There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Let the state and the church, let the institution, however dear, and the person, however near, stand aside, and let the individual soul make its own direct and immediate response to God. One is our pontiff, and his name is Jesus. The undelegated sovereignty of Christ makes it forever impossible for His saving grace to be manipulated by any system of human mediation whatsoever.

The right to private judgment is the crown jewel of humanity, and for any person or institution to dare to come between the soul and God is a blasphemous impertinence and a defamation of the crown rights of the Son of God.

Out of these two fundamental principles, the supreme authority of the Scriptures and the right of private judgment have come all the historic protests in Europe and England and America against unscriptural creeds, polity and rites, and against the unwarranted and impertinent assumption of religious authority over men’s consciences, whether by church or by state. Baptists regard as an enormity any attempt to force the conscience, or to constrain men, by outward penalties, to this or that form of religious belief. Persecution may make men hypocrites, but it will not make them Christians.


 It follows, inevitably, that Baptists are unalterably opposed to every form of sponsorial religion. If I have fellow Christians in this presence to-day who are the protagonists of infant baptism, they will allow me frankly to say, and certainly I would say it in the most fraternal, Christian spirit, that to Baptists infant baptism is unthinkable from every viewpoint. First of all, Baptists do not find the slightest sanction for infant baptism in the Word of God. That fact, te Baptists, makes infant baptism a most serious question for the consideration of the whole Christian world. Nor is that all. As Baptists see it, infant baptism tends to ritualise Christianity and reduce it to lifeless forms. It tends also and inevitably, as Baptists see it, to the secularising of the church and to the blurring and blotting out of the line of demarcation between the church and the unsaved world.

And since I have thus spoken with unreserved frankness, my honoured Pedobaptist friends in the audience will allow me to say that Baptists solemnly believe that infant baptism, with its implications, has flooded the world and floods it now, with untold evils.

They believe also that it perverts the Scriptural symbolism of baptism; that it attempts the impossible task of performing an act of religious obedience by proxy, and that since it forestalls the individual initiative of the child, it carries within it the germ of persecution, and lays the predicate for the union of church and state, and that it is a Romish tradition and a corner stone for the whole system of popery throughout the world.

I will speak yet another frank word for my beloved Baptist people, to our cherished fellow Christians who are not Baptists, and that word is that our Baptist people believe that, if all the Protestant denominations would once for all put away infant baptism, and come to the full acceptance and faithful practice of New Testament baptism, the unity of all the nonCatholic Christians in the world would be consummated, and that there would not be left one Roman Catholic church on the face of the earth at the expiration of the comparatively short period of another century.

Surely, in the face of these frank statements, our non-Baptist neighbours may apprehend something of the difficulties compelling Baptists when they are asked to enter into official alliances with those who hold such fundamentally different views from those just indicated. We call God to witness that our Baptist people have an unutterable longing for Christian union, and believe Christian union will come, but we are compelled to insist that if this union is to be real and effectivé, it must be based upon a better understanding of the Word of God and a more complete loyalty to the will of Christ as revealed in His Word.


 Again, to Baptists, the New Testament teaches that salvation through Christ must precede membership in His church, and must precede the observance of the two ordinances in His church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are for the saved and only for the saved. These two ordinances are not sacramental, but symbolic. ‘They are teaching ordinances, portraying in symbol truths of immeasurable and everlasting moment to humanity. To trifle with these symbols, to pervert their forms and at the same time to pervert the truths they are designed to symbolise, is indeed a most serious matter. Without ceasing and without wavering, Baptists are, in conscience, compelled to contend that these two teaching ordinances shall be maintained in the churches just as they were placed there in the wisdom and authority of Christ. To change these two meaningful symbols is to change their Scriptural intent and content, and thus pervert them, and we solemnly believe, to be the carriers of the most deadly heresies. By our loyalty to Christ, which we hold to be the supreme test of our friendship for Him, we must unyieldingly contend for these two ordinances as they were originally given to Christ’s churches.

To Baptists, the New Testament also clearly teaches that Christ’s church is not only a spiritual body but it is also a pure democracy, all its members being equal, a local congregation, and cannot subject itself to any outside control. Such terms, therefore, as “The American Church,” or “The bishop of this city or state,” sound strangely incongruous to Baptist ears. In the very nature of the case, also, there must be no union between church and state, because their nature and functions are utterly different. Jesus stated the principle in the two sayings, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “Render unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Never, anywhere, in any clime, has a true Baptist been willing, for one minute, for the union of church and state, never for a moment.

Every state church on the earth is a spiritual tyranny. And just as long as there is left upon this earth any state church, in any land, the task of Baptists will that long remain unfinished. Their cry has been and is and must ever be this:

“Let Cesar’s dues be paid To Cesar and his throne; But consciences and souls were made To be the Lord’s alone.”


 That utterance of Jesus, “Render unto Cesar the things that are Czsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine. That utterance, once for all, marked the divorcement of church and state. It marked a new era for the creeds and deeds of men. It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state.

In behalf of our Baptist people I am compelled to say that forgetfulness of the principles that I have just enumerated, in our judgment, explains many of the religious ills that now afflict the world. All went well with the early churches in their earlier days. They were incomparably triumphant days for the Christian faith. Those early disciples of Jesus, without prestige and worldly power, yet aflame with the love of God and the passion of Christ, went out and shook the pagan Roman Empire from centre to circumference, even in one brief generation. Christ’s religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree that it is thus supported it has a millstone hanged about its neck.


 Presently there came an incomparable apostasy in the realm of religion, which shrouded the world in spiritual night through long hundreds of years. Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world. For long centuries, even from Constantine to Pope Gregory VII, the conflict between church and state waxed stronger and stronger, and the encroachments and usurpations became more deadly and devastating. When Christianity first found its way into the city of the Cesars it lived in cellars and alleys, but when Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the impress of the Roman idea and fanned with the spirit of the Cesars. Soon we see a Pope emerging, who himself became a Cesar, and soon a group of councillors may be seen gathered around this Pope, and the supreme power of the church is assumed by the Pope and his councillors.

The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea. The Pope ere long assumed to be the monarch of the world, making the astounding claim that all kings and potentates were subject unto him. By and by when Pope Gregory VII, better known as Hildebrand, appears, his assumptions are still more astounding. In him the spirit of the Roman church became incarnate and triumphant. He lorded it over parliaments and council chambers, having statesmen to do his bidding, and creating and deposing kings at his will. For example, when the Emperor Henry offended Hildebrand, the latter pronounced against Henry a sentence not only of excommunication but of deposition as Emperor, releasing all Christians from allegiance to him. He made the Emperor do penance by standing in the snow with his bare feet at Canossa, and he wrote his famous letter to William the Conqueror to the effect that the state was subordinate to the church, that the power of the state as compared to the church was as the moon compared to the sun.

This explains the famous saying of Bismarck when Chancellor of Germany, to the German Parliament: “We will never go to Canossa again.” Whoever favours the authority of the church over the state favours the way to Canossa.

When, in the fullness of time, Columbus discovered America, the Pope calmly announced that he would divide the New World into two parts, giving one part to the King of Spain and the other to the King of Portugal. And not only did this great consolidated ecclesiasticism assume to lord it over men’s earthly treasures, but they lorded it over men’s minds, prescribing what men should think and read and write. Nor did such assumption stop with the things of this world, but it laid its hand on the next world, and claimed to have in its possession the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of purgatory so that it could shut men out of heaven or lift them out of purgatory, thus surpassing in the sweep of its power and in the pride of its autocracy the boldest and most presumptuous ruler that ever sat on a civil throne.


 The student of history cannot fail to observe that through the long years two ideas have been in endless antagonism—the idea of absolutism and the idea of individualism, the idea of autocracy and the idea of democracy. The idea of autocracy is that supreme power is vested in the few, who, in turn, delegate this power to the many. That was the dominant idea of the Roman Empire, and upon that idea the Cesars built their throne. That idea has found world-wide impression in the realms both civil and ecclesiastical. Often have the two ideas, absolutism versus individualism, autocracy versus democracy, met in battle. Autocracy dared, in the morning of the twentieth century; to crawl out of its ugly lair and to propose to substitute the law of the jungles for the law of human brotherhood. For all time to come the hearts of men will stand aghast upon every thought of this incomparable death drama, and at the same time they will renew the vow that the few shall not presumptuously tyrannise over the many; that the law of human brotherhood and not the law of the jungle shall be given supremacy in all human affairs. And until the principle of democracy, rather than the principle of autocracy, shall be regnant in the realm of religion, our mission shall be commanding and unending.


 The coming of the sixteenth century was the dawning of a new hope for the world. With that century came the Protestant Reformation. Yonder goes Luther with his theses, which he nails over the old church door in Wittenberg, and the echoes of the mighty deed shake the Papacy, shake Europe, shake the whole world. Luther was joined by Melancthon and Calvin and Zwingli and other mighty leaders.

Just at this point emerges one of the most outstanding anomalies of all history. Although Luther and his compeers protested vigorously against the errors of Rome, yet when these mighty men came out of Rome, and mighty men they were, they brought with them some of the grievous errors of Rome. The Protestant Reformation of the Sixteenth century was sadly incomplete—it was a case of arrested development. Although Luther and his compeers grandly sounded out the battle cry of justification by faith alone, yet they retained the doctrine of infant baptism and a state church. They shrank from the logical conclusions of their own theses.

In Zurich there stands a Statue in honour of Zwingli, in which he is represented with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. That statue was the symbol of the union between church and state. The same statue might have been reared to Luther and his fellow reformers. Luther and Melancthon fastened a state church upon Germany, and Zwingli fastened it upon Switzerland. Knox and his associates fastened it upon Scotland. Henry VIII bound it upon England, where it remains even till this very hour. —

These mighty reformers turned out to be persecutors like the Papacy before them. Luther unloosed the dogs of persecution against the struggling and faithful Anabaptists. Calvin burned Servetus, and to such awful deed Melancthon gave his approval. Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, shut the doors of all the Protestant churches, and outlawed the Huguenots. Germany put to death that mighty Baptist leader, Balthaser Hubmaier, while Holland killed her noblest statesman, John of Barneveldt, and condemned to life imprisonment her ablest historian, Hugo Grotius, for conscience’ sake. In England, John Bunyan was kept in jail for twelve long, weary years because of his religion, and when we cross the mighty ocean separating the Old World and the New, we find the early pages of American history crimsoned with the stories of religious persecutions. The early colonies of America were the forum of the working out of the most epochal battles that earth ever knew for the triumph of religious and civil liberty.

 Just a brief glance at the struggle in those early colonies must now suffice us. Yonder in Massachusetts, Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard, was removed from the presidency because he objected to infant baptism. Roger Williams was banished, John Clarke was put in prison, and they publicly whipped Obadiah Holmes on Boston Common. In Connecticut the lands of our Baptist fathers were confiscated and their goods sold to build a meeting house and support a preacher of another denomination. In old Virginia, “mother of states and statesmen,” the battle for religious and civil liberty was waged all over her nobly historic territory, and the final triumph recorded there was such as to write imperishable glory upon the name of Virginia until the last syllable of recorded time. Fines and imprisonments and persecutions were everywhere in evidence in Virginia for conscience’ sake. If you would see a record incomparably interesting, go read the early statutes in Virginia concerning the Established Church and religion, and trace the epic story of the history-making struggles of that early day. If the historic records are to be accredited, those clergymen of the Established Church in Virginia made terrible inroads in collecting fines in Baptist tobacco in that early day. It is quite evident, however, that they did not get all the tobacco.

On and on was the struggle waged by our Baptist fathers for religious liberty in Virginia, in the Carolinas, in Georgia, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Connecticut, and elsewhere, with one unyielding contention for unrestricted religious liberty for all men, and with never one wavering note. They dared to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform, though it cost them suffering and even life itself. They dared to defy traditions and customs, and deliberately chose the day of non-conformity, even though in many a case it meant across. They pleaded and suffered, they offered their protests and remonstrances and memorials, and, thank God, mighty statesmen were won to their contention, Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Patrick Henry, and many others, until at last it was written into our country’s Constitution that church and state must in this land be forever separate and free, that neither must ever trespass upon the distinctive functions of the other. It was pre-eminently a Baptist achievement.

Glad are our Baptist people to pay their grateful tribute to their fellow Christians of other religious communions for all their sympathy and help in this sublime achievement. Candour compels me to repeat that much of the sympathy of other religious leaders in that early struggle was on the side of legalised ecclesiastical privilege. Much of the time were Baptists pitiably lonely in their age-long struggle. We would now and always make our most grateful acknowledgment to any and all who came to the side of our Baptist fathers, whether early or late, in this destiny-determining struggle. But I take it that every informed man on the subject, whatever his religious faith, will be willing to pay tribute to our Baptist people as being the chief instrumentality in God’s hands in winning the battle in America for religious liberty. Do you recall Tennyson’s little poem, in which he sets out the history of the seed of freedom? Catch its philosophy:

Once in a golden hour, I cast to earth a seed, Up there came a flower, The people said, a weed.

To and fro they went, Through my garden bower, And muttering discontent, Cursed me and my flower.

Then it grew so tall, It wore a crown of light, But thieves from o’er the wall, Stole the seed by night.

Sowed it far and wide, By every town and tower, Till all the people cried, ‘Splendid is the flower.’

Read my little fable: He who runs may read, Most can grow the flowers now, For all have got the seed.”

 Very well, we are very happy for all our fellow religionists of every denomination and creed to have this splendid flower of religious liberty, but you will allow us to remind you that you got the seed in our Baptist garden. We are very happy for you to have it; now let us all make the best of it and the most of it.


 And now, my fellow Christians, and fellow citizens, what is the present call to us in connection with the priceless principle of religious liberty? That principle, with all the history and heritage accompanying it, imposes upon us obligations to the last degree meaningful and responsible. Let us to-day and forever be highly resolved that the principle of religious liberty shall, please God, be preserved inviolate through all our days and the days of those who come after us. Liberty has both its perils and its obligations. We are to see to it that our attitude toward liberty, both re-ligious and civil, both as Christians and as citizens, is an attitude consistent and constructive and worthy. We are to “Render unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”” We are members of the two realms, the civil and the religious, and are faithfully to render unto each all that each should receive at our hands; we are to be alertly watchful, day and night, that liberty, both religious and civil, shall be nowhere prostituted and mistreated. Every perversion and misuse of liberty tends by that much to jeopardise both church and state.

There comes now the clarion call to us to be the right kind of citizens. Happily, the record of our Baptist people toward civil government has been a record of unfading honour. Their love and loyalty to country have not been put to shame in any land. In the long list of published Tories in connection with the Revolutionary War there was not one Baptist name.


 It behooves us now and ever to see to it that liberty is not abused. Well may we listen to the call of Paul, that mightiest Christian of the long centuries, as he says: “Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” This ringing declaration should bé heard and heeded by every class and condition of people throughout all our wide-stretching nation.

It is the word to be heeded by religious teachers, and by editors, and by legislators, and by everybody else. Nowhere is liberty to be used “for an occasion to the flesh.” We will take free speech and a free press, with all their excrescences and perils, because of the high meaning of freedom, but we are to set ourselves with all diligence not to use these great privileges in the shaming of liberty. A free press—how often does it pervert its high privilege! Again and again, it may be seen dragging itself through all the sewers of the social order, bringing to light the moral cancers and leprosies of our poor world and glaringly exhibiting them to the gaze even of responsive youth and’ childhood. The editor’s task, whether in the realm of church or state, is an immeasurably responsible one. These editors, side by side with the moral and religious teachers of the country, are so to magnify the ballot box, a free press, free schools, the courts, the majesty of law and reverence for all properly accredited authority that our civilisation may not be built on the shifting sands, but on the secure and enduring foundations of righteousness.

Let us remember that lawlessness, wherever found and whatever its form, is as the pestilence that walketh in darkness and the destruction that wasteth at noonday. Let us remember that he who is willing for law to be violated is an offender against the majesty of law as really as he who actually violates law. The spirit of law is the spirit of civilisation. Liberty without law is anarchy. Liberty against law is rebellion. Liberty limited by law is the formula of civilisation.


 Challenging to the highest degree is the call that comes to legislators. They are to see to it continually, in all their legislative efforts, that their supreme concern is for the highest welfare of the people. Laws humane and righteous are to be fashioned and then to be faithfully regarded. Men are playing with fire if they lightly fashion their country’s laws and then trifle in their obedience to such laws. Indeed, all citizens, the humblest and the most prominent alike, are called to give their best thought to the maintenance of righteousness everywhere. Much truth is there in the widely quoted saying: “Our country is afflicted with the bad citizenship of good men.” The saying points its own clear lesson. ‘When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn.” ‘The people, all the people, are inexorably responsible for the laws, the ideals, and the spirit that are necessary for the making of a great and enduring civilisation. Every man of us is to remember that it is righteousness that exalteth a nation, and that it is sin that reproaches and destroys a nation.

God does not raise up a nation to go selfishly strutting and forgetful of the high interests of humanity. National selfishness leads to destruction as truly as does individual selfishness. Nations can no more live to themselves than can individuals. Humanity is bound up together in the big bundle of life. The world is now one big neighbourhood. There are no longer any hermit nations. National isolation is no longer possible in the earth. The markets of the world instantly register every commercial change. An earthquake in Asia is at once registered in Washington City. The people on one side of the world may not dare to be indifferent to the people on the other side. Every man of us is called to be a world citizen, and to think and act in world terms. The nation that insists upon asking that old murderous question of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the question of the profiteer and the question of the slacker, is a nation marked for decay and doom and death. The parable of the good Samaritan is heaven’s law for nations as well as for individuals. Some things are worth dying for, and if they are worth dying for they are worth living for. The poet was right when he sang:

“Though love repine and reason chefe, There comes a voice without reply, Tis man’s perdition to be safe, When for the truth he ought to die.”


When this nation went into the world war a little while ago, after her long and patient and fruitless effort to find another way of conserving righteousness, the note was sounded in every nook and corner of our country that some things in this world are worth dying for, and if they are worth dying for they are worth living for. What are some of the things worth dying for? The sanctity of womanhood is worth dying for. The safety of childhood is worth dying for, and when Germany put to death that first helpless Belgian child she was marked for defeat and doom.

The integrity of one’s country is worth dying for. And, please God, the freedom and honour of the United States of America are worth dying for. If the great things of life are worth dying for, they are surely worth living for. Our great country may not dare to isolate herself from the rest of the world, and selfishly say: “We propose to live and to die to ourselves, leaving all the other nations with their weaknesses and burdens and sufferings to go their ways without our help.” ‘This nation cannot pursue any such policy and expect the favour of God. Myriads of voices, both from the living and the dead, summon us to a higher and better way. Happy am I to believe that God has His prophets not only in the pulpits of the churches but also in the school room, in the editor’s chair, in the halls of legislation, in the marts of commerce, in the realms of literature. Tennyson was a prophet, when in “Locksley Hall,” he sang:

For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be; Saw the heavens filled with commerce, argosies of magic sails, Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales; Heard the heavens filled with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew From the nation’s airy navies, grappling in the central blue; Far along the world-wide whisper of the south wind rushing warm, With the standards of the people plunging through the thunder storm. Till the war drums throbbed no longer, and the battleflags were furled, In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.”


 Tennyson believed in a league of nations, and well might he so believe, because God is on His righteous throne, and inflexible are His purposes touching righteousness and peace, for a weary, sinning, suffering, dying world. Standing here to-day on the steps of our Nation’s capitol, hard by the chamber of the Senate of the United States, I dare to say as a citizen and as a Christian teacher, that the moral forces of the United States of America, without regard to political parties, will never rest until there is a worthy League of Nations. I dare to express also the unhesitating belief that the unquestioned majorities of both great political parties in this country regard the delay in the working out of a League of Nations as a national and worldwide tragedy.

The moral and religious forces of this country could not be supine and inactive as long as the saloon, the chief rendezvous of small politicians, that chronic criminal and standing anachronism of our modern civilisation, was legally sponsored by the state. I can certify all the politicians of all the political parties that the legalised saloon has gone from American life, and gone to stay. Likewise, I can certify the men of all political parties, without any reference to partisan politics, that the same moral and religious forces of this country, because of the inexorable moral issues involved, cannot be silent and will not be silent until there is put forth a League of Nations that will strive with all its might to put an end to the diabolism and measureless horrors of war. I thank God that the stricken man yonder in the White House has pleaded long and is pleading yet that our nation will take her full part with the others for the bringing in of that blessed day when wars shall cease to the ends of the earth.

The recent World War calls to us with a voice surpassingly appealing and responsible. Surely Alfred Noyes voices the true desire for us:

 Make firm, O God, the peace our dead have won, For folly shakes the tinsel on its head, And points us back to darkness and to hell, Cackling, ‘Beware of visions,’ while our dead Still cry, ‘It was for visions that we fell.’   They never knew the secret game of power, All that this earth can give they thrust aside, They crowded all their youth into an hour, And for fleeting dream of right, they died. Oh, if we fail them in that awful trust, How should we bear those voices from the dust?


This noble doctrine and heritage of religious liberty calls to us imperiously to be the right kind of Christians. Let us never forget that a democracy, whether civil or religious, has not only its perils, but has also its unescapable obligations. A democracy calls for intelligence. The sure foundations of states must be laid, not in ignorance, but in knowledge. It is of the last importance that those who rule shall be properly trained. In a democracy, a government of the people, for the people, and by the people, the people are the rulers, and the people, all the people, are to be informed and trained.

My fellow Christians, we must hark back to our Christian schools, and see to it that these schools are put on worthy and enduring foundations. A democracy needs more than intelligence; it needs Christ. He is the light of the world, nor is there any other sufficient light for the world. He is the solution of the world’s complex questions, the one adequate Helper for its dire needs, the one only sufficient Saviour for our sinning race. Our schools are afresh to take note of this supreme fact, and they are to be fundamentally and aggressively Christian. Wrong education broughton the recent World War. Such education will always lead to disaster.

Pungent were the recent words of Mr. Lloyd George:

“The most formidable foe that we had to fight in Germany was not the arsenals of Krupp, but the schools of Germany.” The educational centre of the world will no longer be in the Old World, but because of the great War, such centre will henceforth be in this New World of America. We must build here institutions of learning that will be shot through and through with the principles and motives of Christ, the one Master over all mankind.


The time has come when, as never before, our beloved denomination should worthily go out to its world task as a teaching denomination. That means that there should be a crusade throughout all our borders for the vitalising and strengthening of our Christian schools. The only complete education, in the nature of the case, is Christian education, because man is a tripartite being. By the very genius of our government, education by the state cannot be complete. Wisdom has fled from us if we fail to magnify, and magnify now, our Christian schools. These schools go to the foundation of all the life of the people. They are indispensable to the highest efficiency of the churches. Their inspirational influences are of untold value to the schools conducted by the state, to which schools also we must’ ever give our best support. It matters very much, do you not agree, who shall be the leaders, and what the standards in the affairs of civil government and in the realm of business life? One recalls the pithy saying of Napoleon to Marshal Ney: “An army of deer led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a deer.” Our Christian schools are to train not only our religious leaders but hosts of our leaders in the civil and business realm as well.

The one transcending inspiring influence in civilisation is the Christian religion. By all means, let the teachers and trustees and student bodies of all our Christian schools remember this supremely important fact, that civilisation without Christianity is doomed. Let there be no pagan ideals in our Christian schools, and no hesitation or apology for the insistence that the one hope for the individual, the one hope for society, for civilisation, is in the Christian religion. If ever the drum beat of duty sounded clearly, it is calling to us now to strengthen and magnify our Christian schools.


Preceding and accompanying the task of building our Christian schools, we must keep faithfully and practically in mind our primary task of evangelism, the work of winning souls from sin unto salvation, from Satan unto God. This work takes precedence of all other work in the Christian programme. Salvation for sinners is through Jesus Christ alone, nor is there any other name or way under heaven whereby they may be saved. Our churches, our schools, our religious papers, our hospitals, every organisation and agency of the churches should be kept aflame with the passion of New Testament evangelism. Our cities and towns and villages and country places are to echo continually with the sermons and songs of the gospel evangel. The people, high and low, rich and poor, the foreigners, all the people are to be faithfully told of Jesus and His great salvation, and entreated to come unto Him to be saved by Him and to become His fellow workers. The only sufficient solvent for all the questions in America, individual, social, economic, industrial, financial, political, educational, moral and religious, is to be found in the Saviourhood and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“Give is a watchword for the hour, A thrilling word, a word of power; A battle cry, a flaming breath, That calls to conquest or to death; A word to rouse the church from rest, To heed its Master’s high behest, The call is given, Ye hosts, arise; Our watchword is Evangelise! The glad Evangel now proclaim, Through all the earth in Jesus’ name, This word is ringing through the skies, Evangelise! Evangelise! To dying men, a fallen race, Make known the gift of Gospel Grace; The world that now in darkness lies, Evangelise! Evangelise!”’

While thus caring for the homeland, we are at the same time to see to it that our programme is co-extensive with Christ’s programme for the whole world. The whole world is our field, nor may we, with impunity, dare to be indifferent to any section, however remote, not a whit less than that, and with our plans sweeping the whole earth, we are to go forth with believing faith and obedient service, to seek to bring all humanity, both near and far, to the faith and service of Him who came to be the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

His commission covers the whole world and reaches to every human being. Souls in China, and India, and Japan, and Europe, and Africa, and the islands of the sea, are as precious to Him as souls in the United States. By the love we bear our Saviour, by the love we bear our fellows, by the greatness and preciousness of the trust committed to us, we are bound to take all the world upon our hearts and to consecrate our utmost strength to bring all humanity under the sway of Christ’s redeeming love. Let us go to such task, saying with the immortal Wesley, “The world is my parish,” and with him may we also be able to say, “And best of all, God is with us.”


Glorious it is, my fellow Christians, to be living in such a day as this, if only we shall live as we ought to live. Irresistible is the conviction that the immediate future is packed with amazing possibilities. We can understand the cry of Rupert Brooke as he sailed from Gallipoli, “Now God be thanked who hath matched us with this hour!” The day of the reign of the common people is everywhere coming like the rising tides of the ocean. The people are everywhere breaking with feudalism. Autocracy is passing, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical. Democracy is the goal toward which all feet are travelling, whether in state or in church.

The demands upon us now are enough to make an archangel tremble. Themistocles had a way of saying that he could not sleep at night for thinking of Marathon. What was Marathon compared to a day like this? John C. Calhoun, long years ago, stood there and said to his fellow workers in the National Congress: “I beg you to lift up your eyes to the level of the conditions that now confront the American republic.” Great as was that day spoken of by Mr. Calhoun, it was as a tiny babe beside a giant compared to the day that now confronts you and me. Will we be alert to see our day and faithful enough to measure up to its high demands?


Are we willing to pay the price that must be paid to secure for humanity the blessings they need to have? We say that we have seen God in the face of Jesus Christ, that we have been born again, that we are the true friends of Christ, and would make proof of our friendship for Him by doing His will. Well, then, what manner of people ought we to be in all holy living and godliness? Surely we should be a holy people, remembering the apostolic characterisation, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people: That we should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light, who in time past were not a people but are now the people of God.”

Let us look again to the strange passion and power of the early Christians. They paid the price for spiritual power. Mark well this record: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” O my fellow Christians, if we are to be in the true succession of the mighty days and deeds of the early Christian era, or of those mighty days and deeds of our Baptist fathers in later days, then selfish ease must be utterly renounced for Christ and His cause, and our every gift and grace and power utterly dominated by the dynamic of His cross. Standing here in the shadow of our country’s capitol, compassed about as we are with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us to-day renew our pledge to God, and to one another, that we will give our best to church and to state, to God and to humanity, by His grace and power, until we fall on the last sleep.

If in such spirit we will give ourselves to all the duties that await us, then we may go our ways, singing more vehemently than our fathers sang them, those lines of Whittier:

“Our fathers to their graves have gone, Their strife is passed, their triumphs won; But greater tasks await the race Which comes to take their honoured place, A moral warfare with the crime And folly of an evil time. “So let it be, in God’s own sight, We gird us for the coming fight; And strong in Him whose cause is ours, In conflict with unholy powers, We grasp the weapons He has given, The light and truth and love of Heaven.”

Baptists at the end of choice, II

December 21, 2022

when does free choice stop gaining happiness?

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.

Baptists at the end of choice

October 27, 2022

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.”

You could mark the start of this debate to a pair of articles in First Things, in 2019. One was Against the Dead Consensus, and then the more pointed Against David French-ism.

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?

Baptists and the Liberal Consensus

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.

Is this the next Executive Committee CEO?

October 06, 2022

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:


French and DeYoung

December 30, 2021

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.

  1. Karl N. Llewellyn, Some Realism About Realism–Responding to Dean Pound, 44 HARV. L. REV. 1222, 1222 (1931). 

The SBC sex abuse database belongs at the ERLC

September 25, 2021

The Southern Baptist Convention is locked in dueling sex abuse crises

One is a crisis of realization: our distinctives can have downsides

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.

A second crisis involves public cases of misconduct at SBC institutions or involving SBC leaders

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.”

The winds have shifted on the need for communication

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?

Baptist Polity and databases

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.

How can it get done?

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.

Is Evangelicalism a Goal or a Byproduct?

September 12, 2021

R. Scott Clark responds to Trevin Wax, in a short essay: “Is the neo-evangelical coalition worth saving?”

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.

Transdenominationalism vs confessionalism

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.

The Transdenominational mirage

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-.

Borowski on Courage

September 12, 2021

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.

Tadeuz Borowski

Roe and Partisan Alignments

September 11, 2021

[Gabriel Malor highlights a quote from Judge Thapar about the inconsistency of Roe’s jurisprudence.]

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.

Vaccines, Religious Liberty, and Sincerity

September 09, 2021

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.

Principled religious liberty tests for sincerity, not perfect consistency

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.

Some Evangelicals have consistently objected to vaccines

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.

Vaccines and Religious Liberty, I

September 06, 2021

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.

Vaccine Ethics are a balancing test, not a switch

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.”

Ethical balancing tests depend on individual conscience

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.

  1. 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. ↩ 

  2. 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. 

Dreher on the Internet Apocalypse and church authority

August 13, 2021

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.

Drawing Baptist Polity

August 05, 2021

#1 Is this polity Baptist?

    graph TD
  A(God) --> B(congregation)
  B --> C(Pastor-Elder)
  B --> D(deacons)
#2 Is this polity Baptist?

  graph TD
  A(God) --> B(congregation)
  B --> C(Pastor-Elder)
  C --> D(deacons)
I think you can use [Mermaid syntax]( to draw your own Baptist Polity in the comments below.

Dostoevsky on the last things.

August 03, 2021

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

What happened to David French?

July 29, 2021

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.

Polarization accomplished.

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?

Why did deacons take over Baptist churches?

July 10, 2021

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.

Questions about the ‘standard’ explanation

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.

Persecuted Baptists Find New Freedom in the 17th Century

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.

The Tolerable Acts

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.

Limits to Toleration and Workarounds

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.

Examples from Spurgeon

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.

How the Act deformed New Testament polity

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.

  1. 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

  2. Compare the Act’s prohibition on disturbing Anglican services (at paragraph XV) (, with the 2LBC’s Chapter 26, Paragraph 13, prohibiting the interruption of any church-order (which is like the Savoy Declaration on this point.) 

  3. See, e.g., 1696 Oath Rolls for Baptist Ministers in London. 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.

  4. 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. 

  5. All facts come from Spurgeon’s Autobiography. Circa p. 370. 

  6. 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. 

  7. 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. 

What can Hayek show about culture wars?

July 06, 2021

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.

In 2018 only half as many GenZ as GenX believe in God 33-62

What can Hayek show about culture wars?

July 06, 2021

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.

In 2018 only half as many GenZ as GenX believe in God 33-62

If you hate culture wars, blame liberals

July 05, 2021

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.

Bart Barber on resolutions

July 03, 2021

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.’

Mercator on atheists that need religion

June 29, 2021

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.”

Strand on the religious academy

June 27, 2021

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.

More Coppenger on SBC polity and theatrics

June 26, 2021

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.)

National Review blasts a bunch of Baptists

June 25, 2021

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:

  1. The SBC CRT controversy managed to predate the Republican version by a good three or four years, beginning with the recommendations from SBTS and SEBTS faculty, and then the MLK50 conference. Whatever your thoughts about CRT, the SBC isn’t reacting to a Fox News cycle.
  2. While this article was criticized by notable SBCers, it was treated as “harsh but fair” by several others.

    Michael Linton
    Samuel James
    DJ Jenkins
    Samuel Perry

Roundup of SBC Roundups

June 23, 2021

Blake White.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Michael Linton

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.

Jon Glass

Don Hinkle - Mo. Pathway

Nate Adams (Ill)

Ronnie Floyd

Mark Coppenger SBC Followup

June 23, 2021

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.

Toward a Southern Baptist theory of fiduciary duty

February 01, 2021

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.

Bullet points: Brad Mason on Carl Trueman 1

January 19, 2021

Brad Mason launches a six-part fisking of Trueman on CRT. A quick rundown of part one shows it probably won't go anywhere useful.

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.”

  1. Brad's Argument 1: CRT is undefinable, therefore Trueman is wrong about claims a, b, and c.

    • Response:
      • It's impossible to argue an undefinable concept. We certainly can't prove Trueman is wrong, if there's no definition. But Brad recognizes this is just preening, and admits in the next section that there really is some consensus about some claims.
      • Scholarly language refutation: Just like "critical legal studies," it is widely accepted both within and outside critical movements that "scholars share sufficient themes, arguments, and approaches "to permit intelligent discussion of the movement as a whole." Johnson, Do You Sincerely Want to Be Radical?, 36 STAN. L. REV. 247, 249 (1984). (Yes, Johnson is writing before CRT proper, but this is fair for all the "critical" theories).
  2. 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 Evidence for the Argument: Brad shows 11 bullet points and a paragraph, and none of them contain the exact words used by Trueman.
    • Response:
      • Most of this "argument" is spent claiming Brad's target lacks sufficient knowledge, reading, credentials, or training. This is Brad's most frequent 'argument,' but it is not really an argument.
      • Brad's eleven bullet points and a paragraph from Crenshaw do not show that Carl has "little awareness" or unfairly characterized or summarized CRT. Failing to use the same words or phrasing does not tell us whether Trueman understands or misundertsands CRT. The question is whether the words Trueman does use fairly describe the theory.
      • In showing how "aware" scholars would describe CRT, Brad proves he was wrong about Argument 1. CRT has some intelligible claims that educated people fairly describe as claims of Critical Race Theory. Trueman is right about claim a.
  3. Brad's Argument 3: CRT does make claims about systemic racism, but Trueman is wrong that such claims are exclusive to CRT.

    • Response:
      • Brad admits that CRT makes claims about systemic racism. "A way of understanding [systemic racism] is certainly included within CRT." Trueman is right about claim b
      • Trueman does not say systemic racism is exclusive to CRT, and Trueman never says his argument depends on describing things "exclusive" to CRT. Argument 3 was a straw man.
  4. Brad's Argument 4: CRT does not make a claim about "being non-racist is impossible," so Trueman is wrong about claim c.

    • Brad's guess: "My guess is that Trueman gets this idea from a marginal awareness of Ibram X Kendi’s work ... these definitions are peculiar to Kendi and not particularly reflective of CRT scholarship."
    • Response:
      • Notice that Brad again engages in ad hominem attacks, assuming that the opponent has not read as widely as himself. Even Kendi is put down as not a real CRT scholar, despite running BU's
      • Is it true that Kendi makes an argument about 'being non-racist is impossible'? Yes, Kendi makes this explicit argument.
      • Is it true that Kendi's argument is not shared with CRT? No. Kendi is applying a hard critique of neutrality. Here's what Kendi says:

        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.

      • So when Kendi says "being non-racist is impossible," he is framing a critique of false neutrality in the fight against racism.
      • What field claims to be the home for academics to criticize false neutrality in discussions of race? Critical Race Theory. I'm sure some scholars caveat their neutrality claims more than Kendi, but they frequently start in a similar place: suspect all neutrality. But Kendi is critiquing neutrality in race discussions, and that's the thing CRT is known for. This is the "verb" CRT claims to do; this is the field it wants to cover. I don't think you would find CRT scholars to say Kendi's outside the bounds of CRT.
      • Kendi is a little closer to unusual in saying that minorities have some power, and concluding they can be racist with that power. The CRT consensus about minorities was that they are relatively-out-of-power, and so unable to be racist. Kendi is comfortable calling minorities "racist" if they fail to be anti-racist. I can imagine a debate about this within CRT circles, but, again, discussion of power and race is the CRT neighborhood.
      • I assume it is not necessary to show that CRT critiques neutrality, or that critiques of neutrality are "core" to CRT.
      • Therefore, Trueman is right about his claim C.
  5. 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."

    • Response: At the top of this essay, Brad said: "it is debatable whether CRT does in fact have any set of basic claims—it certainly has no strict agreed upon definition, nor list of “tenets” that are both necessary and sufficient." Now we have a claim that CRT is specificaly a function in the field of law. At least one of these claims isn't true!
    • Brad's wrong if he means CRT is "predominately" a field that criticizes law. CRT started out in the law, true enough. But it was stymied in the law, because of the Constitution's anti-discrimination and equal protection provisions. So CRT scholars turned to academic areas where law might reach. And those scholars' ideas about interdisciplinary law are ... expansive. For a good recounting by a CRT scholar, you could read Gloria Ladson-Billings (1998) Just what is critical race theory and what's it doing in a nice field like education?, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. And that article was written in 1998. I suspect there is far more "CRT" scholarship and thinking outside the law now. It is no longer a parochial subfield of legal theory.
    • I suspect Brad's claim here is wrong in the broader sense. Does CRT say racism is understood and explained "predominately as a function of law?" Bell made assertions about how racism manifested in the law, but I don't know of any scholars that say racism is understood and explained mostly through the law.
  6. Brad said a lot, with some scholarly preening -- but Trueman was right about a, b, and c. This is a common feeling after reading his essays.

Modern sexual ethics

January 18, 2021

More proof that the only ethical relationship in the future will be some form of bisexuality or pansexuality.

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."

Free Speech and the techocracy

January 18, 2021

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.

Ben Friedman on Religion and Economics

January 17, 2021

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 Smith’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 “cooperate” with God in effecting their salvation. As the philosopher John Locke put it in a famous metaphor, people have “the candle of the Lord” 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 good—all of these bedrock principles show that the influence of religious thinking on American capitalism isn’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 Atlantic on Epoch Times

January 15, 2021

The Atlantic does a good backgrounder on the sudden rise of the Epoch Times. .

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 “attachments.” 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.

MereOrthodoxy & White Evangelical Crap

January 14, 2021

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 “whiteness.”... The economic views exist because an extremely thick doctrine of private property is central to that autonomy—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?

so·cial·ism /ˈsōSHəˌlizəm/ 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.

Race conscious remedies

January 05, 2021

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."


December 22, 2020

Tyler Cowen recomments "Smashing the Liquor Machine" based on the galleys.

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.

Bon(fire of the vanities) Appetit

December 16, 2020

Alexandra DeSanctis (twitter) notes Bon Appetit can't even get the politics of saffron right.

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.