Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Perils of Ignoring the 14th Amendment

The citizens of Ashville, North Carolina recently elected an atheist, Cecil Bothwell, to serve on their city council. North Carolina's state constitution prohibits anyone "who shall deny the being of Almighty God" from holding public office. The state's GOP and the Religious Right have filed suit to remove Bothwell from office.

Among those opposed to Bothwell's holding office is Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who says that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution does not apply in North Carolina or any other state. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Fischer, North Carolina's GOP, and the Religious Right have long been reviving "states rights" arguments that legitimated the losing causes of the civil war era. This time instead of slavery, they are trying to legitimate the establishment of religion and the persecution of persons of minority faith and no faith.

If the 14th amendment did not apply all the rights contained in the Bill of Rights to the citizens of every state and if the North Carolina GOP, the Religious Right, and Fischer's contentions were true, what else would that mean?

It would mean that freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and the free exercise of religion are no longer rights but mere benefits granted and withdrawn at the shifting whims of the electorate of every state. It would mean that no one can be sure that they will from unreasonable searches and seizures or free from cruel and unusual punishment. It would mean that we have no guarantee of legal counsel or of a speedy trial or of a public trial before a jury of our peers. In effect, it would make the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights a hollow and meaningless document.

It wouldn't surprise me if Fischer and the Religious Right would gladly trade these birthrights for a bowl or two of Chrstian Nationalist porridge.

It would surprise me if they would be happy to learn that they were no longer guaranteed right the keep and bear arms -- and that would also be in jeopardy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Roots of Religious Liberty: The Edict of Milan

A couple years ago I wrote an opinion for the District Court regarding the Ten Commandments monument on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County, Oklahoma. In that opinion, I discussed Roger Williams' position regarding religious liberty and believed, at that time, that his understanding of forced religion as "molestation" and his equating it with "soul rape" was uniquely his own.

Since that time, I have found no earlier thinker who has described forced religion as the rape of the soul, but I have found what may well be the first description of it as a "molestation." The rescript of Licinius, published in 313 A.D., documents the Edict of Milan formulated by Constantine and Licinius. Though they failed to abide by this edict, it is a remarkably enlightened statement and may well be the earliest legal document affirming religious liberty.

Here is an English translation of the Edict of Milan:
When we, Constantine Augustus and Licinius Augustus, had happily met together at Milan and considered all things which pertain to the advantage and security of the state, we thought that, among other things which seemed likely to profit men generally, we ought, in the first place, to set in order the conditions of the reverence paid to divinity by giving to Christians and all others full permission to follow whatever worship any man has chosen. Thereby whatever deity there is in heaven may be benevolent and propitious to us and to all placed under our authority. Therefore we ought, with sound counsel and right reason, to lay down this law, that we should in no way refuse to any man any legal right who has given up his mind either to the observance of Christianity or to that worship which he personally feels best suited to himself -- to the end that the Supreme Divinity, whose worship we freely follow, may continue in all things to grant us his accustomed favor and good will. Wherefore your excellency [addressed to the governors of the provinces] should know that it is our pleasure that all provisions whatsoever which have appeared in documents hitherto directed to your office regarding Christians and which appeared utterly improper and opposed to our clemency should be abolished, and that all who wish to worship as Christians may now freely and unconditionally do so without any annoyance or molestation. These things we thought it well to signify in the fullest manner to your attention, that you might know it well to signify in the fullest manner to your attention, that you might know that we have given free and absolute permission to the said Christians to practice their worship. And when you see that we have granted this to the said Christians, your excellency will understand that to others also a full and free permission for their own worship and observance is granted, for the tranquillity of the times, so that every man may have freedom in practice of whatever worship he has chosen.
(Emphasis mine)

Baptists in Oxford

'Seditious Sectaryes'

This is another of the volumes sent to me in the Baptist History series and I think it one of the most interesting yet. Larry Kreitzer has done an absolutely fantastic job of tracing Baptist life in Oxford in the mid 17th century. These two volumes (only vol. 1 is listed- volume two contains all the primary sources used by Kreitzer in his historical reconstruction) allow interested historians and students an opportunity to see inside a Baptist Church living in the heartland of Anglicanism and how those 'sectarians' managed to do church in a fantastically Christian way.

The volume traces the lives of five utterly unknown Baptists and their struggles. One was a tanner, one was a glover, one was a soldier, one was a gardener, and one was a milliner. And yet these ordinary, normal people were able to carve out a substantial Baptist witness in a location not associated with Baptist work.

Kreitzer tells their stories with verve and sensititivity and his volume serves as a paradigm of how historical research should be, and can be done. I commend this work to your serious attention.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Baptists Are Ready

To feed 600,000 people in the aftermath of Gustav, should it become necessary.  Say what you will about Baptists, it's we who respond first and in force when natural disasters strike.  Indeed, though the Red Cross never fails to take credit for feeding folk after a disaster, it's Baptist Disaster Relief who prepares the meals.  We Baptists can be proud of our immediate intervention.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unseemly and Misguided

That's the phrase an ethicist has used to describe churches using raffles and giving away gas cards and other such 'methods' to draw folk to worship.
Robert Kruschwitz, director of The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, called the promotions "unseemly" and "misguided." ... David T. Olson, director of the American Church Research Project and head of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, said independent, Pentecostal and Baptist churches with nontraditional ways of attracting new members are more likely to use promotions like the gas raffles. But he said there are other more effective ways of drawing newcomers. "I personally would encourage them that having people from their church build relationships with their friends who do not attend church, and invite them as their friend, would be a much better strategy," Olson said.

Indeed! You know, the way the early church did it...
Nathan White, an Atlanta-area Baptist, was troubled by a church gas card raffle he learned about at a Baptist church in Snellville, Ga. The corporate executive, who plans to become a pastor, thinks gas giveaways are shameful financial gimmicks that undermine the Gospel. "They are appealing to the natural corruptions in unbelieving people ... . The Bible warns very explicitly about the dangers of greed, the love of money being the root of all evil," said White. "Appealing to the selfish motives of people is not Christianity."

Now there's a fellow who understands theology far, far better than the pandering pastors now numbering in the thousands. The last sentence in his quote is right on the mark.
Kruschwitz worries that people who come to church because of the enticements won't stick around long enough to listen to the preaching and join the worship. "Are they being tempted to think the church is about such gimmicks and external rewards?" he asked.

And they won't. Trust me. As soon as the gimmick is gone, so are they- because such churches haven't appealed to their need for spiritual development, but to their need for greed. You'd think pastors and churches would be smart enough to know the difference. Alas...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Baptists in Europe

Counter-Cultural Communities

This book is one of the many that arrived a few days back now that certainly is worthy of wide attention. It offers interested readers a glimpse of life in Baptist Churches in the USSR, Moldavia, Finland, Bulgaria and Bosnia. I found the essay by Anneli Lohikko, August Jauhiainen and the Pentecostal Dilemma in the Finnish Baptist Union (1930-1953) particularly pertinent because it addresses an issue presently faced by Baptists in the United States; i.e., the problem of pentecostal tendencies among Baptist leaders and in Baptist churches. Anneli astutely notes 'I will seek to argue that the main reason the Union has remained so small has been the constant quarrels that from time to time have torn the Union from the inside' (pp. 119-120).

Baptists currently debating pentecostal issues would do well to take a glance over at the recent history of the Finnish Church to see how such debates turn out.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Calling All Baptist Facebookers

We wanted to let you know of the existence of a Facebook Group for the Baptist History and Heritage Society. If you're a Baptist and have interest in history, we'd love to have you join in. And don't worry, you don't have to be a member of the Society- but that would be great too!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Noteworthy Book

The folk at Eisenbrauns Publications have sent me some fantastic volumes to read and review and among them is this gem-

Baptist IdentitiesBaptist Identities

And one of the essays that makes it such a gem is that of Karen Smith, whose 'Preparation as a Discipline of Devotion in Eighteenth Century England: A Lost Facet of Baptist Identity?' (pp. 22ff) increases the value of the volume.

Smith's really important contribution to this volume prods Baptists to consider their devotional roots by reminding them that '... for early Baptists there was never a sense in which one was merely a believer alone, but one was always bound to Christ and thereby bound inextricably also to those who were within the covenant community and, as such, part of his body, the church' (p. 22). Smith goes on to describe early Baptists and their understanding of conversion and commitment and how personal reflection and private devotion led them to prepare their hearts for church membership, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and, ultimately, death.

Private devotions with communal implications have disappeared for many Baptists under the cover of simply private devotions for personal sake. A community oriented devotional practice is much needed in these days of individualism and self centeredness. Smith's work is a much needed corrective to much current practice.

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