Baptists Yesterday | Bruce Gourley
Bruce Gourley, online editor for Baptists Today and Executive Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, provides observations about Baptists of yesterday that can benefit Baptists today.
"Sir: Under Divine protection, the Ministers and Messengers of the several Baptist churches of the North Carolina Chowan Association, held at Salem, on Newbiggin creek, in Pasquotank county, in the District of Edenton, and State of North Carolina, having met by appointment to offer up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart to the great Author of their Being, for the unbounded display of goodness and of tender mercies bestowed upon the children of men; and while rendering adoration, prayer and thanksgiving, with deep humility for the great and unspeakable gift which brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, they feel a profound sense of the bounty received by the hands of the Supreme towards the several churches in our connection by the overpowering of the Spirit upon them; not only in effecting a great increase in numbers, but in the substantial interest of the churches, being supported and strengthened by a very great and uncommon measure of Christian love, union and harmony among the Brethren. While we have great cause of thankfulness for all these bounties and mercies, we have felt the deepest gratitude to be due for the civil and religious liberties we enjoy under the administration of the government over which you, Sir, at present preside: for which liberties our fathers have, in times past, suffered at the stake and have bled and died.
The sense of contrast between the present moment and a late period when we were feelingly alarmed at the threatened invasion upon the general toleration of a free conscience in the worship of the God of our Fathers; we have now great reason to shout with loud acclamations of joy and praise that we now live under our own vine and under our own fig-tree in peace. And while we pray that the sons of liberty may be long held at the helm of government, to rule and govern these United States, we feel the strongest emotions to be thankful that under your patronage and administration, there is none shall make us afraid.
Living under a government of our own choice where the rights of men feel an equal and impartial distribution, how much ought we to rejoice at the envied happiness and freedom of our fellow-citizens throughout these States unrivalled and unequalled by any nation on this terrestrial globe, and in the midst of national wealth, prosperity and peace, added to extent of empire under the wise policy of your administration, we feel no danger of your violating your trust or attempting to endanger the happiness of the people who have chosen you as their Chief and Head. And while our prayers and praises are due to the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, who has made you an instrument in his hands to give such blessings to such a people, we pray that the God of Battles may be your sun and shield; that he may give you grace and glory; and that he may withhold no good thing from you. And may we devoutly be permitted to add our prayers to the great Disposer of events, if it is His will, that that life devoted to public good from the commencement of our glorious Revolution to the present day, may be prolonged with blessings to yourself and common country."
Can you guess to whom this Baptist associational letter was written?
In May 1964, the Southern Baptists treked to Atlantic City, New Jersey, for their annual meeting, in conjunction with American Baptists' annual meeting. The sojourn northward revealed the divisions in Southern Baptist life over issues of Baptist cooperation and race relations.
The year 1964 marked the 150th anniversary of American Baptists' first national organization, the Triennial Convention, formed in 1814 for the purpose of mission endeavors. Seven Baptist groups in America celebrated the anniversary, and sought to form a committee to foster better relations among the various groups. Southern Baptists, however, refused to take part in the joint committee.
By a vote of 2,771 to 2,738 - a mere 33 votes - SBC messengers voted against the cooperative proposal. A "heated debate" characterized the discussion regarding the debate. Agreeing to be a part of the joint committee meant joining hands with African American Baptist groups, and some Southern Baptists refused to do so.
The Georgia Baptist Convention today continued a campaign of selective reading of Scripture - and more important to fundamentalist messengers, it would seem - a selective reading of their own statement of faith (the Baptist Faith and Message 2000): for the second year in a row, the GBC tossed out a church (Druid Hills Baptist Church of Atlanta, in this instance) for having a woman pastor on staff.
Never mind that women have been preaching from pulpits in Baptist life since at least the eighteenth century. Today's Southern Baptist Convention has regressed to the point of teaching women homemaking skills in seminary.
Since the 1960s, Southern Baptist fundamentalists have fought long and hard to reduce (literally) Southern Baptist life to conformity with an ever-narrowing pure faith. Today was simply the latest in a string of thousands of theological purgings.
Yet Baptist church fights are nothing new, and in some instances from yesteryear, members literally were tossed out of church buildings.
This week the Baptist General Convention of Virginia passed the following resolution:
Inaccurate history threatens religious liberty
Whereas, the Baptist principles of religious liberty and its safeguard, separation of church and state (or government neutrality toward all religions and nonreligion), are well grounded in this nation’s history, and
Whereas, the labors of Virginians, notably Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, and the Baptist minister John Leland, were crucial in the historic events that made these two principles part of our nation’s Bill of Rights, and
Whereas, no people, Baptist or otherwise, can remain true to its principles if its knowledge or collective memory of these principles is tampered with, altered, or replaced by a false version of history, and
Whereas, the Religious Liberty Committee of the Baptist General Association of Virginia has concluded that systematic efforts have been under way in recent decades to write and teach versions of American history that minimize and sometimes deny the historic basis of one or both of the principles named above,