Monday, June 04, 2012

Baptists and Theology, This Week in Raleigh, North Carolina

This week the Baptist History & Heritage Society convenes in Raleigh, North Carolina to dialogue about Baptists and Theology. Scholars, pastors and laity from throughout America will present papers, while Bill Leonard, Fisher Humphreys and Glenn Jonas are keynote speakers. 

The conference is hosted by the First Baptist churches of Raleigh, in addition to Campbell University.

Conference dates are June 7-9, Thursday evening through Saturday morning. 

The general public is welcome to attend the conference. Registration is available on site, both for the entire conference and for individual sessions.

For more information:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bapto-Catholicism Revisited

Baptist theologian Jay Smith has posted an interesting critique of Bapto-Catholicism, a movement among some Baptist theologians away from a Baptist identity grounded in Baptist traditions of freedom and community, and to a new Baptist identity centered in ancient creeds and the ancient churches (Roman Catholicism and Orthodox faiths). The manifestation of this re-imaging of Baptist identity is publicly expressed in attempts by Bapto-Catholics to establish an ecumenical vision that brings Rome into local Baptist churches' worship and practice in the form of recitation of creeds and introduction of Roman Catholic / Orthodox sacramentalism, alongside a spirited academic defense of the primacy of the papacy and Roman Catholic and Orthodox magesterium in defining true faith.

Is the Bapto-Catholic meshing of Baptist identity with papacy and ancient creeds true ecumenism? Jay Smith, a student of and co-author with the late Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz, says no. Instead, "It seems to be rather one sided ... with the Baptists drinking stout draughts from the Catholic keg as our Roman friends look on with the stoicism of a 'Cheshire Cat'." Read more from Jay Smith's blog post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Ecumenical Sexual Revolution

It has come to this: Southern Baptist leaders, the Pope, and Roman Catholic bishops (an all male triad) have jumped into bed together to make certain that men can impregnate women unhindered and at will ... in the name of "religious freedom." (Unfortunately, this is not a joke.)

Thus is born an ecumenical sexual revolution that would embarrass the “free-love” advocates of the 1960s.

How did religious freedom become an excuse for making women the playthings of male libido?

The sex-fixated minds of the bed-police trinity would point us to the Bible.

Of course. Back in biblical days, polygamy was the norm and was practiced by God's appointed heroes in the Old Testament. So sexually-fixated were Hebrew men that God commanded that a man's duty to his deceased brother was to impregnate his brother-in-law's widow. Masturbation was punishable by death ... because the practice wasted sperm that was intended only for procreation.

In the early Church, Augustine adopted the Old Testament belief of masturbation as sin against God because it prevented the possibility of procreation. This position became the official position of the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Leo IX in 1054 and forward, and in 1975 was re-affirmed by the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Family in a declaration asserting that the "Magisterium of the Church" believe "without hesitation" that masturbation is "intrinsically" evil because it thwarts the only legitimate use of sex: procreation.

But wait. Banning masturbation (because it was an evil act that thwarted God's will) was not enough for the Roman Catholic Church of the 20th century, an era when evil humans concocted a devilish new way to circumvent the will of God: "birth control" (a term coined in 1914).

More measures were needed to ensure that nothing could prevent sperm from potentially impregnating women, and Pope Pius XI (aptly-named) was up to the task. Delivering to earth God's latest sex edict from on high, Pius XI in 1930 issued a papal encyclical, Casti Connubii (Latin for "Of Chaste Wedlock"), officially positioning the Roman Catholic Church against contraception.

And yet, a strange thing happened: many Catholics - scholars, doctors, common folk - ignored the new word from God, instead choosing to embrace birth control because (evil though it might have been in God's eyes) it helped bring about healthier and more harmonious families. Not forcing wives to procreate at the whim of husbands was not such a bad thing after all.

The Catholic groundswell for contraception reached such a fever pitch that, in the light of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI in 1964 appointed a commission on birth control to advise him on the matter. Three years later, news of the commission's deliberations leaked to the press: 60 of the 64 Catholic theologians, and nine of the 15 cardinals that (collectively) comprised the commission voted to lift God's ban on contraception.

Paul VI, however, chose to take the matter to God one-on-one. As a result, God instructed the Pope to issue a new papal encyclical (Humanae Vitae, or "Of Human Life," 1968) against the overwhelming majority of theologians and cardinals on the commission, and re-affirming the evilness of artificial birth control that prevented sperm from fulfilling their appointed job of procreation.

Meanwhile, Roman Catholic church members have increasingly ignored God's ban on birth control. The Pope and church bishops are about the only Roman Catholics who still oppose contraception; some 98% of sexually-active Catholic women today use birth control.

But while the Pope and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are ignored by their own church members, they have recruited some new disciples: Southern Baptist leaders (and a host of other Protestant evangelical leaders too, for that matter). For the record, however, Southern Baptist leaders did not just now become Roman Catholic Pope / bishop groupies. The courtship began several years ago.

[First, a historical note regarding modern (that is, artificial) birth control: Baptists, from liberal to fundamentalist, have not traditionally opposed artificial birth control. That is, while some individual Baptists most likely did oppose birth control years ago (in keeping with the Baptist heritage of freedom of conscience, a Baptist is free to believe what he or she may), Baptists as a denomination and in general did not position themselves against birth control. Now, on with the story ...]

In 2005, influential Southern Baptist Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared that "Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation." Thenceforth, Mohler became a vocal proponent of "quiver theology" (see Psalm 127:3-5), a strategy of Southern Baptist couples procreating large numbers of children in order to help the statistically stagnated Southern Baptist Convention begin growing again.

The following year, Mohler wrote an editorial entitled, "Can Christians Use Birth Control?" After noting that Baptists (and other "Evangelical Protestants") had not historically opposed contraception, Mohler argued that evangelicals should heed Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical against birth control. While stopping short of declaring that contraception is always evil, he nonetheless invoked Old Testament imagery in declaring, "The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most defining marks of our age -- and one of the most ominous."

In 2008, Dr. Thomas White of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary warmed the hearts of Pope and bishops alike when he declared that using birth control pills is a "sin" and "murder," because the "pill" thwarts the one intended purpose of male sperm: impregnating women.

Now, five years later, Southern Baptist leaders, the Pope, and Catholic bishops - together carrying the torch of Old Testament commands that the usage of sperm outside potential procreation is a sin - are furious with President Obama for continuing (after adding exemptions for churches and religious schools and hospitals) a George W. Bush-era policy of mandating that employer health care plans include contraception medication (yes, you read it right: Bush got a pass from the Religious Right on this issue).

Richard Land, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is telling anyone that will listen that Obama has violated religious liberty (by maintaining the George W. Bush policy).

"We are not going to sit by and allow our God-given rights, which are acknowledged, recognized and protected by the constitution, to be defeated, to be neutered, and to be confined and restricted by the Obama administration," Land insists.

If you are wondering where in the U. S. Constitution the Old Testament, and thousand-year-old Roman Catholic, view of sperm-for-procreation-only is mentioned (much less protected, favored, or mandated), you are not alone.

If this Old Testament-infused sexual revolution signifies a new ecumenism between Rome and Nashville, maybe the Southern Baptist Convention really will have to change its name. "Southern Vatican Convention" just might work.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hitler Revisioned: A Strange Way of Demonizing One's Opponents

Adolf Hitler seems to be making a political comeback of sorts: in the past several years, conservative politicians, media personalities and Baptists have increasingly invoked the F├╝hrers name in denouncing their opponents.

In 2009, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, caused an uproar when he denounced Health Care reform by accusing President Barack Obama and congressional Democratic leaders of attempting to do "precisely what the Nazis did."

In 2010, Delaware Republican Glen Urquhart blamed Hitler for church state separation: "Do you know, where does this phrase 'separation of church and state' come from? It was not in Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists. …The exact phrase 'separation of Church and State' came out of Adolf Hitler's mouth, that's where it comes from. So the next time your liberal friends tlk about the separation of Church and State, ask them why they're Nazis.” (Not only did Hitler not make such a statement, but he supported the marriage of church and state. Baptists, of course, were the earliest champions of church state separation. Which makes me wonder if Urquhart considers Baptists to be Nazis?)

Not to be outdone, Newt Gingrich (current Republican presidential candidate) in 2010 declared Obama, Democrats and liberalism (lumped together as the “secular socialist machine”) "as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did." In addition, media superstars Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have repeatedly equated Obama to Hitler.

This month, Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, equated the convictions of America’s Religious Right as similar to that of Hitler’s opponents. George’s statement was in reference to a 2009 document entitled “The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience,” a conservative rallying cry against abortion and homosexuality and for traditional (Western) marriage. Crafters of the Manhattan Declaration point to the 1934 “Theological Declaration of Barmen” (written by Karl Barth) as inspiration for the Manhattan Declaration.

Also this month, popular conservative evangelical author Andy Andrews released a new volume entitled, How do You Kill 11 Million People? Andrews equates the current political climate in America with that of Nazi Germany, warning that if American citizens continue to believe the lies of national politicians, a similar fate may await America. While not explicitly calling out politicians by name, Andrews is pitching his book by making the rounds of Right-wing talk shows and fundamentalist Baptist congregations.

Historically, the growing conservative rage against perceived Hitler-like opponents is a bit strange. During the 1930s and early 1940s, many political conservatives in America -- including the early Christian Right -- in opposition to both Franklin D. Roosevelt and communism, embraced fascism and Nazism, a story well documented by Allan J. Lichtman in White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. William Loyd Allen, in an essay entitled “How Baptists Assessed Hitler,” documents how even some Baptists in America praised Hitler.

Strange also is the argument that the 1934 Barmen Declaration, authored by a theologian whom modern Christian conservative consider to be a liberal, is a reflection of the 21st century agenda of the Religious Right. The Barmen declaration was a statement against church state entanglement, a position that America’s Religious Right supports (indeed, evangelical conservatives largely view church state separation as anathema, if not heresy). And while there was much discussion of conservative Christianity, abortion and homosexuality during Germany’s Nazi years, much of the rhetoric came from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, which proudly wore the label of Christian Nationalism and mandated conservative religious and family values.

In a 1933 radio speech, Adolf Hitler publicly stated his intention to elevate “Christianity as the basis of our [Germany’s] morality, and the family as the nucleus of our nation and our state.

Hitler’s view of the family was that women must be subject to their husbands. In a 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women’s League he declared, "If the man's world is said to be the State . . . her world is her husband, her family, her children and her home . . . What the man gives in courage on the battlefield, the woman gives in eternal self-sacrifice, in eternal pain and suffering. Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people.... It is not true ... that respect depends on the overlapping of the spheres of activity of the sexes; this respect demands that neither sex should try to do that which belongs to the sphere of the other."

Of abortion, Adolf Hitler declared: "Nazi ideals demand that the practice of abortion ... shall be exterminated with a strong hand. Women inflamed by Marxist propaganda claim the right to bear children only when they desire.” He also insisted that "the use of contraceptives [by Aryan women] means a violation of nature, a degradation of womanhood, motherhood, and love." In the 1930s, the Nazis outlawed contraceptives and closed all birth control clinics. In 1943, as the Nazis were seeking to conquer Europe, the Nazi Party mandated the death penalty for abortion providers.

As to homosexuality, in the early 1930s the Nazi Party began a systematic campaign of imprisoning and/or killing all homosexuals in Germany. The Gestapo on April 4, 1938 issued an order to consign convicted homosexuals to concentration camps. Altogether, the Nazis arrested over 100,000 homosexual males, most of whom served time in prison and/or concentration camps. Nazi prison guards systematically sought to cure imprisoned homosexuals of their “disease.”

The Nazi Party’s status as Germany’s Religious Right leads to the question of who resisted Hitler and the Nazis? In short, many liberal and secular scholars, as well as moderate to liberal Christian leaders, opposed the Christian Nationalist Nazi agenda. In his quest to eradicate abortion, homosexuality and secularism, Hitler did his best to purge from public life liberal scholars, politicians, religious figures and civil servants.

In short, not only did America’s early Religious Right applaud Hitler and Nazism, but today’s Religious Right seems (albeit not intentionally) to be following the same playbook that the Nazi Party utilized in order to establish (in Hitler’s words) “Christianity as the basis of our morality”: force women to be subjugated to men, criminalize abortion providers and eradicate the practice of abortion, and persecute homosexuals.

Fortunately, today’s rhetoric is not as strident as the Religious Right agenda of Germany’s Nazi Party. In addition, the American system of democracy guards against religious extremism of any stripe silencing opponents and subverting the nation in such a manner as did Germany’s Nazi Party.