Evangelical Regret Over Santorum Endorsement in Baptist Church   4 comments

For Evangelicals, it just keeps getting worse, and this Sunday was definitely a low point. I’ve spent most of my life in Baptist churches (twenty years as a pastor), and I identify myself as an Evangelical, so I was particularly interested in this story. In it, Rev. Dennis Terry, the pastor of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Greenwell Springs Louisiana, introduces Republican candidate Rick Santorum to his church with some red hot rhetoric. Now, it’s not Rick Santorum, but me that wants to “throw up.”

The problem is that, in addition to some understandable preaching about the church being the “conscience of America”, Pastor Terry went on to say that, in this country “we believe in God” (“There is only one God, and his name is Jesus.”), and that, if you don’t agree, or are a member of another faith –  if you don’t want to do it our way, you should “GET OUT!” of our country. I know, you probably think I’m exaggerating or taking things out of context. What follows is a brief quote and here is  the link to the video:

“I don’t care what the liberals say, I don’t care what the naysayers say, this nation was founded as a Christian nation…There is only one God and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words.. Listen to me, If you don’t love America, If you don’t like the way we do things I have one thing to say – GET OUT. We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammad, we don’t worship Allah, we worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

Greenwell Baptist Church exists in a bit of a bubble when it comes to the racially diverse city of Baton Rouge and of Louisiana itself. The population is almost entirely white, and the church staff of 16 white folks mirrors this. I mention this only because, it seems that the pastor’s views are informed more by his bubble, and less by the Bible, the U.S. Constitution or just plain old-fashioned common sense about diversity of the U.S.

For instance, according to the 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, over 20% of Americans either practice other religions (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu) or don’t identify with any religion. Anyone “in the business” of religion, knows that there is a lot of “nominalism” in these numbers too – that is, that many people identify as “Christians” but don’t really practice. Many of these people are Christians “in name only” (nominal). Bottom line, what Pastor Terry is suggesting is the answer to the problems in the U.S. are that over 20%, and actually way over 20% of its people “get out.” Really Pastor Terry, that is your considered opinion?

Another problem in the pastor’s sermon is his “we” statements. “We” believe this, and “we” want that, and “we” want you out if you don’t like it. If he’s speaking for the majority of Americans who identify as Christians, which I doubt is the case, then we need to know the specifics of his emigration plan for the (minimum) of 62 million American’s who aren’t deemed fit. But, like I said, I doubt if Pastor Terry really believes that the rest of the roughly 311 million Americans are true Christians. What about liberal churches where the Bible isn’t preached? What about Mormons? What about Catholics like Rich Santorum? Believe me, it won’t be hard to find Baptists somewhere preaching that Catholics aren’t true Christians. (I’m not endorsing this, only reporting it.) My point is that, the religious cleansing proposed by Rev. Terry will have to remove these “misfits” also, and that such a cleansing is far from what the majority of Americans (“we”) want. I think the “we” is Pastor Terry refers to is himself and the others cheering him on in his white-enclave bubble – in Louisiana!

As for the constitution and U.S. history, I think it’s clear that our country was forged around the belief in religious liberty, and eventually (by means of the bill of rights), on the belief in religious liberty for all. There is nothing new or controversial about saying this. What may be new to some is the idea that historically Baptists – let me repeat, Baptists – were at the forefront of the battle for this liberty. A simple google search for “Isaac Backus” will provide hours of reading on this point, and he is only one example. This is big because today, when people think of Evangelicals and Baptists, they often think of narrow-minded bigots intent on forcing their religion on everyone else (and the video from Terry’s church only exacerbates the problem). The fact that historically, the concept of forced religion is repugnant to Baptists (whose beloved distinctive of “soul liberty” expresses just the opposite, would be news to many.) No matter, truth is truth, and the fact of the matter is that Rev. Dennis Terry is out of step with the truth on which our nation was founded. After all, the First Amendment clearly proclaims that, in this land, that we will have no “established religion”, and that at the same time, the “free exercise of religion” will not be prohibited. What that obviously means, among other things, is that no particular version of religion will be forced upon anyone, and that everyone’s “exercise of religion” (their own religion) is protected by law.

But I want to emphasize, that Rev. Terry, is not only out of step with his Baptist roots and confession – he is marching in the wrong direction and, like a pied piper, seducing a church full of others to follow him. I’m all for having convictions, speaking out courageously against the culture, and calling others to join you in pursuing a higher, better way. Jesus himself did that. The thing is, when Jesus did it, what he had to say was heard as good news. People loved and followed him. Later, many would die for him rather than renounce him. Only the conservative bigots and threatened religious leaders of his day hated him. The message that Rev. Terry preached on this occasion wasn’t like that. It’s full of hate and pandering. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t respect the image of God in his creatures, and it’s a betrayal of the best principles of the United States, and of people of faith everywhere – and especially of Baptists.

This isn’t about Santorum for me, but really, you have to wonder what he was doing in this church.

Postscript: Mr. Santorum has since tried to excuse himself for his standing ovation of Rev. Terry’s remarks, but in the lamest way. As for Rev. Terry, he has claimed that the media misrepresented him. I’ll leave it for you who have seen the video to decide for yourself on that.

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4 responses to “Evangelical Regret Over Santorum Endorsement in Baptist Church

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  1. Thank you for your measured and thoughtful response to the divisive, ahistorical, and frankly ignorant message that was promulgated here. It’s discouraging that the loudest voices with access to national megaphones are not only getting American history and civic ideals wrong, they’re getting their own church’s sectarian history and ideals wrong. It is a catastrophic fail, a consequence of giving oneself over to one’s lower nature and indulging in aggressive tribalism rather than living the ideals of Christ, or of the Founders of the Republic, or both.

    As someone who is part of the 20% you mention that is outside the mainstream of religious belief in this country, I appreciate you as an Evangelical speaking out against this political agitation from within, as it were, as that is critically important to effecting change for a more peaceful, tolerant and cohesive society.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. We’ve definitely become a much less civil society and more hate filled society, and the greatest victim of it is the truth itself. I remember a quote from Katherine Anne Porter that I’ve used in many wedding ceremonies: “Love must be learned and learned again and again; there is not end to it. Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.”

  2. It was Baptists in the 18th century who were persecuted for their faith in Virginia – and Thomas Jefferson, who faith was far from orthodox Christianity, who came to their defense.

  3. Pingback: Republican Jesus™ « While you were sleeping

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