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The Fundamentalist History They Don’t Want You To Know

February 27, 2012

There is a funny thing about history. Even though there are countless books waiting to be investigated and read, myriad articles from the times, and an abundance of other evidence, we human beings would rather have someone else — one of our contemporaries — tell us what it is.

It boggles my mind when I hear evangelicals claiming that our founding fathers in the United States did not really intend for there to be “separation of church and state.” Evangelical leaders and politicos say, “No! They didn’t mean that! They were Christians. They did not actually use that phrase.”

If you should decide to do the research for yourself, the case becomes abundantly clear.  And I’m going to help you along a little with some history that I have researched. I will even give you places to look for yourself.  Then you can decide for yourself what is clear and what is agenda riddled falsehood.

Let’s start with the Baptists. That’s my own personal heritage. Born and raised in a Virginia Southern Baptist Church. The granddaughter of Primitive Baptists from Missouri.

The first Baptists in the colonies crossed the Pond in order to escape persecution by the Anglican Church in England. They set up shop in South Carolina (1682), Virginia (1715), and North Carolina (1727).  They were a simple lot. They eschewed finery and laziness. And they really ticked off the gentry.

You needed a license to preach back in those days. Of course, those were only handed out by the Anglican Church in the South. (There were similar issues with the Puritans in the North.)  You paid taxes that went to the Anglican Church. You could be prosecuted/fined if you missed too many Anglican Church Sunday services. The “AC” was the center of society. You had to be a member in order to hold political office. So, they liked to arrest Baptist preachers for things like disorderly conduct.  If you read this article from the July 1974 of the William & Mary Quarterly, you can get a good idea of how much the Baptists ticked off the AC establishment.

The Baptists did other things that annoyed the AC folks. They went around evangelizing everyone. Even slaves and freedmen. They accepted them into their churches and made them preachers.  And they called for the abolition of slavery as they believed all men were equal in the sight of God.

The Baptists were really good at organizing and motivating people to condemn the powers that be for their sinful ways.  The First Great Awakening in the 1740’s only gave them more fervor. They grew by leaps and bounds without any political power whatsoever. When their preachers were arrested, they were defended by men like Patrick Henry and James Madison.

And then came the American Revolution.

Once all those AC power guys were gone, the Baptists (and other evangelicals) were determined to prevent another society where something like the Anglican Church ruled. Therefore, they were firmly on the side of separation of church and state. Pay taxes that go to a church? No way. Let the church control the government? Nope. Require people to be church members to hold political office? No.

A prime example was the Baptist pastor John Leland.  Patrick Henry proposed a bill in the Virginia legislature that would impose a tax to encourage religious institutions. You could earmark it to go to whatever denomination you preferred.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were vehemently opposed to it. So were evangelicals.  Leland worked tirelessly to see the bill defeated.

Contrary to the myth of revisionist history, our Founding Fathers were very much divided about “separation of church and state.” And you can see it in their letters and writings.

Once the United States of America existed, however, things in the evangelical community took a turn, especially in the South.  The preachers and church members who had been banned from political office and from social status, suddenly became wealthy.  The church, which had always been the center of social and political events, was still center, but it wasn’t the Anglicans anymore. It was the evangelicals.  Now, they found ways to extol slavery. This new generation of pastors liked the status quo. And they wanted to protect it.

In 1814, the Baptists “united” nationally under the Triennial Convention.  Unfortunately, it was dominated by northern churches and pastors who still cried out for the abolition of slavery. They would not appoint missionaries who were slave owners.  The South rebelled. So, in 1845, they broke from the national convention and formed the Southern Baptist Convention.

And then, the South lost the Civil War. What to do?

Flash forward to the Civil Rights era.  And the Roe v. Wade era.

When the Roe v. Wade ruling came down, there was very little protest from the religious right.

Although various Roman Catholic groups denounced the ruling, and Christianity Today complained that the Roe decision “runs counter to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people,” the vast majority of evangelical leaders said virtually nothing about it; many of those who did comment actually applauded the decision. W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press wrote, “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.” Indeed, even before the Roe decision, the messengers (delegates) to the 1971 Southern Baptist Convention gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, adopted a resolution that stated, “we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” W.A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, expressed his satisfaction with the Roe v. Wade ruling. “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” the redoubtable fundamentalist declared, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Abortion just wasn’t an issue, except to some Catholics.

But segregation was.  Green v. Connally was.  In 1972, the Court ruled “that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt standing.”  The IRS was going after private schools that practiced segregation. Schools like Bob Jones University. Private schools like the ones Jerry Falwell launched in response to desegregation.

In 1958, Falwell had made his position clear in his sermon, “Segregation or Integration: Which?”
“If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made,” Falwell boomed from above his congregation in Lynchburg. “The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

Go do a little research on all these private Christian schools in the South. See when they were founded.  Look and see when they began (were forced) to accept non-white children.

The bully tactics used by fundamentalist Southern Baptists, beginning at the 1979 Southern Baptist Convention, have become standard practice.  At the 1979 convention (which was attended by my parents), anyone who wasn’t part of the takeover was silenced. If you disagreed with the fundamentalists, your microphone was turned off. You were escorted out. Baptists were suddenly being required to follow a creed, something that went against everything in their history of independence and the “priesthood of the believer.” Women were silenced.

Some of those who were part of that takeover have now recognized how un-Christian it was and have denounced the politicalization of the Southern Baptist Convention.  The Moderates were forced to break away and form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (The Baptist Joint Committee that signed on to the recent call for taking religion out of the current political debates is part of the CBF.)

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The Civil War was fought over slavery. No other issue, despite attempts of revisionist “history.” Every single issue, “States’ Rights,” economics, everything — it was all about slavery. The States’ rights to make slavery legal, the States’ rights to re-introduce the slave trade, the economics of slavery.  If you read any of the newspaper accounts from 1859, after John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid, you can see exactly what the issue was. Slavery.

Likewise, the corruption of the right wing evangelicals can trace all of its roots back to slavery.  They can use whatever code words they want: States’ Rights, Religious Liberty, Patriotism…every action they take, every thing they protest is rooted in discrimination. And they have brainwashed new generations into thinking it is everything else.

If abortion was such an issue to them, where were they when Roe v. Wade was passed down?  Why did their leaders say such nonchalant things about it? The same leaders that now use it as a rallying cry?

Hidden agendas.  They depend on their followers to blindly follow.  The Bible hasn’t changed over the years, but these politicians in the pulpit have learned to change their language.

But insiders remember and know the truth.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I know for a fact that there are good, decent, non-racist churches and members out there in the evangelical community. But your “leaders” are lying to you about their own history and yours. Ask yourself, “Why?” Why would they keep trying to ignore and re-write history? Look at their “fruit.” I am in no way “for” abortion.  But I do not want to see the church dictate laws. It is not about morality. It is about power. And you are supporting that with your money and your voice.

  1. I don’t want to see the church dictate laws or decide our medical and personal decisions for us.

  2. adawnrenee permalink

    I Believe and I think the churches have lost their way preaching divisiveness (“Gays can change and we demand they repent!”), hatred (again: Gays) and exclusivity. God I imagine will not be pleased and a whole lotta brethren will be really unpleasantly surprised on our day of judgement~

  3. Floyd Miller permalink

    Right-winger Paul Weyrich of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress said:
    “What galvanised the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de-facto segregation.”

    • Thanks for the citation, Floyd. I do remember that quote, but I couldn’t remember the exact phrases or the name of the man who said it…otherwise I would have included it in my blog.

  4. Steve Wilson permalink

    I agree wholeheartedly with all of the points exhorted aside from the point on slavery. pre civil war civics extols that as a viable cause. It could in fact lead one to conclude that even if the slave issue were removed entirely, the dissolution of commonality would have progressed to the separation. A point long reached prior to M. Brown’s body lying mouldering in his grave.

  5. Steve, if you have a link to an strong article or book from that POV, please share. I would like to read it. I haven’t found one yet that I thought was very compelling, but I’m always open to see something new. My post wasn’t meant to be an in-depth dissertation on the subject, but to get people to look and to talk about it.

  6. Laura Ingram Lemley permalink

    Do you think the whole pre-occupation with “biblical inerrancy” in the takeover of the SBC was just a smokescreen to hide the fact that fundamentalists wanted to drive out all the “liberal” seminary professors who supported the civil rights movement? Just a thought…

    • Laura, Yes. From what I was told at the time by men and women with lifelong affiliations with some of the seminaries. TPTB knew it was a creed they would never agree to. And, it was one that had never been required or expected before. In fact, it was directly against every Baptist principle and tradition until that point. And it cleared out the missionaries, too. (I think they were surprised at the CBF and how much that starved their own coffers.) The thing is, even they aren’t inerrantists. What they really mean is, “I believe that the Bible has to be interpreted a certain way… My way.”

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