Randall Balmer’s book, Thy Kingdom Come, turns in chp 2 to ask this question: “Where have all the Baptists Gone?” and looks at the First Amendment. Here’s the overall thesis of the chapter: “America needs more Baptists — real Baptists, not counterfeit Baptists like Roy Moore or Rick Scarborough or Richard Land or Jerry Falwell, all whom are Baptists in name only” (68). Why does he say this?
Chp. 2 of this book sketches the history of the disestablishment clause in American law, demonstrates that it was derived from Roger Williams, a Baptist, and demonstrates that the clause was thoroughly defended by George Washington Truett (major Southern Baptist figure), and Balmer argues that is now being thoroughly undermined by recent zealotic Baptists who aren’t consistent with their own history. Hence, the opening quotation: Baptists who meddle as some do today by seeking to impose Christianity on the State are denying their heritage.
Here are the major underlying issues: Does Christian entanglement in politics lead to Constantinianism? (The use of power and law to force the faith.) And, one I’d like to see Balmer address, How much variance can a Christian permit between the Christian thinks is right and what a State legislates? (At some point do they say “this is what the law states, but it is wrong, and I’m working to change it?”)
He picks on two figures in this chp: Rick Scarborough, of whom I had not even heard, and Roy Moore, the famous Ten Commandments judge. The chp has a nice survey of the disestablishment clause — and his focus (unlike the famous Stephen Carter book The Culture of Disbelief) is on getting Christians to mind their manners when it comes to what is justifiable legally. (Carter argued that the separation of Church and State was a law designed to keep the Feds out of our business nor us out of theirs, though Christians cannot form a law that gives Christianity privilege.)
Here are some quotations, and Balmer always has a few shots worth quoting.
“the red-meat rhetoric of the Religious Right” (40).
“Baptists have always been suspicious of entanglements with the state” (41).
Scarborough “determined to eviscerate the First Amendment” (46). And he cites him saying “The whole concept of separation of church and state is a myth propagated by liberal judges” (46).
He shows that Lyman Beecher learned that “disestablishment has had an electrifying effect” for religions.
Where, he asks, have all the real Baptist gone?
He finds the SBC’s move to the Religious Right, the takeover of the SBC, and the appeal of Reconstructionism undermines Baptist principles.
Here’s a major point he is making, and I’m not sure there is enough discussion of this point. Is it true or is it not? “We must recognize that religion flourishes best at the margins and not at the centers of power” (68).