Columns » John Brummett

Pulpit politics? Shocked, shocked


Southern Baptists merged with the Republican Party about 15 years ago. Ronnie Floyd, the pastor of the biggest church in Arkansas, a Southern Baptist one, of course, simply behaved on July 4 - both the Lord's Day and the nation's Independence Day, fittingly - as contemporary Republibaptists behave. He told the thousands of parishioners at the First Baptist Church in Springdale that God opposed gay marriages but favored Iraqi Christians. And in case anyone in the pews didn't know which presidential candidate properly opposed the one and nobly championed the other, he showed a picture of George W. Bush. The group that filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging that Floyd's church should lose its tax-exempt status for this blatant partisan politicking from the pulpit must have missed the news of the merger. It also must have mistaken America for a place that's serious about observing what Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state. Don't think for a minute that Democrats are serious about the separation, either. They might be if they weren't preoccupied with salvaging their re-election campaigns by appearing in black churches in the inner city and across the South, registering voters in the lobbies and running buses on Sunday afternoons for early voting. That's what Mike Huckabee was talking about when he called Arkansas a "banana republic" four years ago. It's what Ronnie Floyd was countering tit for tat. Actually, the U.S. Constitution does not speak of a wall of separation between church and state. It merely says government must allow the free practice of all religions and may not establish a religion. The real constitutional transgression, the truly un-American activity, would occur if and when the Republibaptists got the White House and Congress and imposed their religion on the unwilling through the government. Some are saying that's already happening. I don't think we're quite there. If those guys were really in charge, I wouldn't be able to write what I write most days. It was around 1990 when extreme conservatives took over the Southern Baptists' formal national organization. They were extremely conservative in all senses - religious, political and cultural. They didn't see any need to compartmentalize any of that. In fact, they felt commanded by God to blend all of it. They believed every word in the Bible was inspired and literal; that America was not a free-religion nation but a Christian one; and that God commanded them to fight against abortion and women's rights and gay rights, because those were sins, and for the right to pray in school their kinds of prayers. They expelled from the formal Southern Baptist Convention those who were moderate, liberal, tolerant of disagreement or inclined to prefer Democrats. Their annual conventions brought in as speakers such political luminaries as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, not Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The latter two professed to be Southern Baptists themselves, but that couldn't possibly be true, you understand, because they did Satan's work as Democrats. Ronnie Floyd's stump speech from the pulpit July 4 represented the natural progression of the Republibaptist movement. It should have surprised no one. Lacking the political will to ban partisanship by tax-exempt churches, persons disagreeing with Brother Floyd should exercise their remaining freedoms. One would be to go another church. Another would be for the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and some of the more enlightened Methodists to do some pro-Kerry preaching, maybe even introduce a nonpartisan God who says Ronnie Floyd and Tom DeLay and John Ashcroft need to lighten up. Those of us who sleep in and play tennis Sunday mornings will have to get our political information elsewhere. I'll probably rely on PBS, NPR and a handful of newspapers, though not the editorials.

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